WRITING A Nightmare Unfolds: HELLSCAPE

Discussion in 'SHOWCASING' started by Zhavélékú, Aug 7, 2016.

  1. Presented here for your reading pleasure are three sample chapters from my upcoming epic-length post-apocalyptic fabulist horror novel, Hellscape: The Fifth Horseman. You might have seen my banner ad for this game around on Iwaku. The following segment of this dark tale takes place in a fictional prison known as Cooper Point Federal Penitentiary. The scenario? An outbreak of weaponized smallpox... with worse to come.

    Chapter Twenty-Seven: Intermezzo des Grauens
    Thursday, March 15th, 2012
    Oklahoma City, Oklahoma: Mercy Hospital
    The young woman came into the Emergency Department at Mercy Hospital, her cheeks flushed with fever. It took the triage nurse several rounds of questions to get a clear picture of her chief complaints: a vicious headache, weakness, muscle aches and malaise. The woman kept speaking of a sense of impending horror, saying over and over again that something bad was happening, and that her sister was experiencing the same progression of symptoms. The young woman was placed in a medical recliner in the hallway and given fluids. The word ‘Influenza’ was definitively written within her file just before she was prescribed a high dose of ibuprofen and sent on her way.
    Six days later, she returned.

    So did forty-six other patients. Every one of them had small, hard vesicles inside their mouths, on hands, feet and faces, and even upon the genitals in some cases. Save for the sister of the initial patient, none of these people had been in contact.

    Monday, March 26th, 2012
    Biloxi, Mississippi
    “You motherfuckers gonna help my baby? Cain’t you see she dyin?”
    The woman stood in the center of the shabby waiting room of an urgent care center, screaming. The eight-month-old child in her arms was listless, her skin ashen. Coating the whole of the child’s little body were small, hard lumps, some of which were turning a purulent grey. The woman herself was sweating and wild-eyed with fever. The odor coming from both of them was a thick stink of disease.

    La Jolla, California
    “And I am telling you, I know what I am seeing.” The soft-spoken young doctor with the dark curls stood in the office of the hospital administrator. He was pale and shaking, more frightened than ever he had been.
    “What we’re seeing is a communicable disease, Dr. Reed, but this idea that it’s Variola major? If that were the case, there’d be some kind of national alert—”
    “And the way we declare an alert is we isolate these patients, everyone that’s been anywhere near them, and we call the fucking CDC.” Reed’s fear flashed over to anger. “If you don’t do, it, I will. The genie has been let out of the bottle. My job, yours and everything other than containing this disease has to be sidelined right now. So… either get the CDC on the line, get out of my way while I call them, or fire me and let me walk out of here and then go to both the CDC and the media and hang your ass out to dry as a coward. We’re dealing with smallpox, and you are in denial if this doesn’t convince you!” Dr. Reed pitched a file onto the administrator’s desk.
    The photographs inside it showed a twelve-year-old child, his mouth open in a scream of pain, and black patches forming a map of death over his young body. His testicles were black and swollen to the size of a grapefruit.
    With a shaking hand, the administrator picked up the telephone.

    Plano, Texas
    Thursday, March 29th, 2012
    The Medical Center of Plano was a charnel house. The waiting rooms and passageways were filled with hollow-eyed, feverish faces, many with blackening skin. In some cases, the outer layers of the epidermis had begun to slide away from the tissue beneath, staining every surface with blood and infective material. A grim-faced nurse with vesicles on his hands and face finally closed and locked the main doors.
    Outside, men in blue Chemturion positive-pressure suits were putting up scarlet tape marked with the word ‘Quarantine’ and the biohazard trefoil.

    Thursday, April 1, 2010
    The health care system first buckled and then caved in beneath the pressure. The disease that had struck the whole of the country in a simultaneous wave was positively confirmed as Variola major—smallpox. The strain was one that had been heavily modified by Biopreparat in the former Soviet Union. Because of this, the stockpiles of smallpox vaccine proved to be less than 30% effective, even when given before exposure. Health-care workers, police and other first-responders were beginning to fall like wheat beneath a scythe—if they remained at their posts at all.
    The White House declared a national state of emergency, and a hot debate flew through Congress as to whether to declare martial law at the federal level. Though President Charles Lassiter was a hardline right-wing Republican, he had a Democratic majority in both the House of Representatives and the Senate. Led by Senator Bernard Sanders, an Independent from Vermont, they would not countenance more than the federal quarantine procedures adapted from the National Strategy for Pandemic Influenza drafted in May of 2006.
    The patent to the ACAM2000 smallpox vaccine had been acquired by Mainwaring Pharmaceuticals, a new arrival to the market. When the original formulation of the vaccine failed, Mainwaring began work on one isolated from the strain that was spreading through the Americas like wildfire. However, the company fully intended to use the crisis to its advantage.
    Rather than supply ‘push packages’ of the vaccine immediately, Mainwaring demanded immediate payment for their product, citing a need to use the funds to produce more of the vaccine. This made it impossible for many poorer communities to acquire the vaccine at all, and as a result, the disease continued to spread unchecked in these areas. President Lassiter attempted to instate legislation to seize the company’s assets, but no precedent for such a thing existed. All the while, matters were worsening.
    The CEO of Mainwaring Pharmaceuticals was a young man named Anthony Novak, who had inherited money and also seen a great deal of success through managing hedge funds for other biotech companies. His acquisition of the ACAM2000 virus had happened under questionable circumstances and indeed had been under investigation at the time of the outbreak. At his behest, the company began to sell the vaccine in the private sector, pricing it at a staggering $1200 per dose, despite knowing that the current formulation had an efficacy of only 30%.
    By May 15th, 2012, there were 125,602 deaths worldwide due to this new emergence of mankind’s greatest scourge. It was at this stage that responsibility was claimed by the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, in a broadcast from the Central News Agency in Pyongyang.


    Chapter Twenty-Eight: Cooper Point
    Saturday, July 7th, 2012
    “Cuff up, Würger. The Warden needs to talk to you.”
    Julian slowly opened his eyes. He had been in a deep state of meditation after a lengthy calisthenic workout. He rose, but before presenting his wrists at the cuff port, he looked through the hazy panel of glass set in the door of his cell.
    “How is it that the living come at last to disturb the reverie of the dead?” The question was laced with equal parts malice and irony.
    “Just cuff up and stop being an asshole.”
    “As you wish.” Julian turned and allowed the guard to place the cuffs upon his wrists. Outside the cell, two other guards assisted him in locking the cuffs to a waistbelt and placing shackles on his ankles.

    Fools, Julian thought. I could have all of this off me in an instant, and they would be dead before they hit the ground, all three of them.
    Since his assignment to solitary confinement, Julian had become ever more angry. He had expected to be returned to Death Row and the cell he shared with Donlan Cross, but no such reprieve had been granted. Every grievance he had filed in the matter had been shot down, regardless of what he and Ernie attempted. He was bitter; he felt that he had been punished for doing all he could to save lives during Hurricane Roslyn.
    He looked at the familiar surroundings as he was brought to the passageway that led to the interview rooms. With a slight frown, he noted how quiet it was. Few inmates were moving around, and there seemed to be far less than the expected number of staff present as well. Like the other inmates at Cooper Point, he was aware of the smallpox outbreak. He knew his Pride on the outside was safe. When the disease had emerged, they had taken shelter in the Den and Eisenschloss to lay low until things were stable. However, it seemed that things were beginning to deteriorate at the prison. He made no mention of any of this as they brought him to an interview room, locking his wrists to the ring set in the surface of the table.
    A moment later, the door opened, and Warden Mazzara entered. Julian was taken somewhat aback by his appearance. The normally-neat man looked haggard and exhausted, even more than he had done during the storm. His tie was loose and his top collar button undone, and his shirt looked as though he might have slept in it. He fell as much as sat in the chair opposite Julian’s.
    “Want those off?” he asked.
    “Oh, allow me.” A quick stab of his telekinesis freed both his hands and his ankles. He was rewarded by Mazzara’s startled gasp. “You want something from me.”
    “Look, Julian, I’m sorry about—”

    “Das ist scheiße. Spare me, please… just tell me what it is you want from me, Warden.”
    “Dr. Parker is dead. None of the orderlies have come in. We’re down to three nurses, and Marion just collapsed with a fever of 102.8. She’s got it, and she’s been sick for at least a week. We’re quarantined, so there’s not going to be any help forthcoming any time soon. I know that as a military man, you will at least have been vaccinated against this shit. Please… I’m sorry. I need your help.”
    “You locked me away from people I swore I would protect. I have not been permitted more than three sheets of paper and a pencil at any given time by way of entertainment. You have kept me buried alive for saving your life, Mazzara. I do not find myself inclined to be used again.”
    “I was terrified of you.” The admission came with a bleak sincerity. “I’m terrified right now, in fact. You could come across that table and kill me. In fact, at any time, I know you could have reached in and popped my brain like a tick, or done something equally ugly. But this is the fact, Julian. I’m not going to make it out of here alive. I have plaque psoriasis. Even if the goddamn vaccine worked worth a shit, being inoculated with it would probably kill me just as dead as the virus. I stayed because it’s my duty, just like you feel Donlan Cross and Caiaphas Hale are yours. I couldn’t leave these people to this while trying to save my own ass. So I am asking your forgiveness. We don’t have a lot of hope, here. People are suffering. The whole place is just as locked down as you’ve been in AdSeg. They just placed us under quarantine. Please. If you want, I’ll beg.”
    “No.” Julian closed his eyes and drew a sigh. He lifted a hand to press the bridge of his nose between thumb and forefinger. “I will help you. But not for free.” He lowered his hand, and amber eyes fixed Mazzara with a long stare before he spoke again. “I want a ten-man dorm in the Honor Block. In it, I want Caiaphas Hale, Donlan Cross and the seven men from Call of Gjallarhorn. I want unrestricted access to do my job, and I want them to assist me. So all of them will need to be vaccinated if there are doses available to do it. If not, they need the appropriate protective equipment. I can see that you have a very depleted staff indeed. I’m not going to risk getting shanked by some scumbag just for taking his temperature.”
    “I can put you guys in one of the dorms. But I can’t make those men trustees without—”
    “Then no deal. I will go back to my cell, and I will wait for you and as many other people as possible to die. I will then use my abilities to kill as many others as necessary, let myself out, and take this prison over to use for my own purposes. You have read the reasons why I feel I need to do so; it will make a good shelter when things really melt down. You said it yourself: your condition is such that if you are given the ACAM2000 vaccine, you’ll die, and you will also die when—not if, when—you contract the virus. So I fail to see why you are trying to stand on policy. The Lady of Fàtima has come to Cooper Point.”
    “I’m not going to get this past Browning, Julian. And he’s pretty popular with what few COs I have left to me.”
    “Bring him in,” Julian said. “I never had the opportunity to thank him for that bug-out bag. And I think talking to me might give him a little perspective.”
    “He’s not someone you’re going to get along with. I know the story about your uncle and why you had problems with him—I was here while he was incarcerated. Browning’s a fundamentalist of a similar bent, just not a goddamn pedophile like Matthias Verger.”
    “I did not ask if I would get along with him. I asked for the opportunity to talk to him and get across to him why I am asking for these specific men and these specific conditions.”
    “He doesn’t know I’m even talking to you.”
    “Well… my suggestion is that you count him in immediately. The alternative is I remove him. We are doing things my way from here forward. Your way ended me up being locked away for two years because I was inconvenient.”
    “Let me get that stuff back on you. I’ll send someone in to watch you, and I’ll be back with Browning. Julian… try to keep this cool, for the love of Jesus. It’s…. bad. You’ll see how bad, pretty quick.”
    Mazzara replaced Julian’s restraints and then stepped into the hallway. He passed a few quiet words with the officers that had brought Julian from his cell. One of the men, a tall, square-bodied black man, stepped inside the room, wariness in his eyes. His long stint in the hole had done nothing to dull the edges of the fear Julian inspired in others. Julian spent the time waiting staring at the man, watching sweat bead on his brow and upper lip. The guard couldn’t leave the office quickly enough when Mazzara returned with Patrick Browning.
    The Assistant Warden was a thick-set man with a thinning grey crew-cut, through which an age-spotted scalp gleamed unpleasantly. His eyes were a lugubriously-hooded pale blue, and the left eye had a slight esotropic cast. His light was a nondescript green, like the color of dirty pool water.
    “Son, you owe me an apology,” Browning said. “Rifling through my office—”
    “And using that bug-out bag to keep the Warden and one of the nurses alive through that storm. I won’t apologize to you, but I’ll thank you for the use of the bag.” He thought of mentioning the gun, but that would lead into potential questions regarding the set of master keys he had found at the same time.
    “You seem to have quite an opinion of yourself.” Browning sat down, smoothing his tie over his paunch.
    “I’m aware of my capabilities. I am also aware that you need said capabilities right now. I am not unwilling, but I have some conditions to that.”
    “Yeah, Johnny told me all about your conditions. And the fact that you’re willing to sit on your ass and just let people die unless we follow your playbook.”
    “I have my reasons for asking for these concessions. The Honor Block dorms are separated from one another. The men in question are not a discipline issue—”
    “Except for Donlan Cross. That Irish bastard’s a scrapper.”
    “And has had to be, due to being so young and being housed in a facility like this one. Unless he’s done something in my absence, all of that stopped when we became cellmates. I want him with me as much to keep an eye on him as because I like him and want his help.” Julian chose to try another tack. “I’m convicted of crimes that I am sure are incomprehensible to most people. However, several things have not changed: I am a health care professional, I have very good instincts, and I am not afraid of Variola major. Give me what I am asking for and I will help you as you try to contain this. And then, if it’s honestly what you think you need to do, put me back in AdSeg when we stop seeing new cases. I want Caiaphas Hale, the men from Call of Gjallarhorn Kindred and Donlan Cross because I know for a fact I can trust them. You are asking me to do something very dangerous, and it’s not due to the virus that I am concerned. You don’t have enough staff, so I need my own.”
    Browning shot Mazzara a questioning look, bushy eyebrows lifted a little.
    “I think we have to try it. Our asses are twisting in the wind, Pat. The alternatives don’t look so great. This isn’t Kingman or Victorville. These cells are open to the air in front, though their bars. This disease is gonna spread faster than bad news,” Mazzara said.
    “It is,” Julian said. “Smallpox is an airborne virus, like measles or influenza. My attorney told me that this strain was engineered to be more contagious than normal, as well as more lethal. So, when you see a case in a cell block, I give it about a week before it spreads to every cell on every tier. All we can really do is use whatever doses of vaccine we acquire for the staff and for my men, and then reduce suffering wherever possible. Those affected will have to remain in their cells. There won’t be any way to move them or a secure location to quarantine them, even if this virus wasn’t going to travel through the bars and ventilation to hit other areas.”
    “Okay, okay, you know your shit. I see that,” Browning said, lifting a hand in a conciliatory gesture. “So we move some men out of the Honor Block and into Protective Custody to free up a dorm. We get you your guys. What else do you need?”
    “I need N100 respirator masks and nitrile gloves—a lot of both. I am going to also create a list of supplies that I will need to use as I treat people who fall ill. Marion’s more or less useless to me, considering she brought it here and then spread it.”
    “Now, Marion Sprague’s a good woman—”
    “I’m sure. And we don’t get along. She caused me some problems during the storm. Even were she still healthy, I would be unwilling to encounter a repeat of that. I will need to give directions and have them followed without argument. Keep her isolated.”

    “Man… I never thought I’d say such a thing, but thank Odin for smallpox!”
    Julian had already been moved from AdSeg and was putting his returned possessions into order within the ten-man dormitory. He had chosen the top bunk in the set furthest from the door. As Bonner spoke, he turned around and offered a grim smile.
    “Don’t say that. This disease is only beginning its burn through this place. It’s killing huge numbers in every part of the country. My attorney says it came out of North Korea. Kim Jong Un infected a large group of his own people and sent them into the largest cities in the United States. We have real problems.”
    “Are you fucking shitting me?” Ethan slowly sat down on one of the bunks. “This shit was North Korea? They’ve been keeping it quiet as much as possible. No TVs, radios or newspapers since this whole deal got rolling. Bet it was to keep us at the low-sweat stage—most guys have families on the outside.”
    “And this is just the start of it.” He would have continued, but Donlan ran into the dorm and hauled him into a bear hug.
    “Julian, you bloody ol’ cunt! That fuckin’ ugly face is a sight for sore eyes!”
    “And that accent is going to make my ears bleed.” He laughed and thumped Donlan’s shoulders and then pulled away. “The envelope. I hope you kept that safe?”
    “I did. It’s right here.” Donlan pulled the legal envelope that held the copy of the Hjorulfsson prophecy out of the pillowcase he was using to carry some of his possessions.
    “Back when we had the Sumbel, I mentioned that one of my honored dead had been a Lokisman, Ethan, and you said you wanted to hear the story. Well, that’s about to happen. Everyone get settled. The best way to do this will be for me to read this aloud. I won’t read the entire thing, but I will translate it and leave it for anyone who wants to read it. And you should.”
    “I have heard all of it,” Caiaphas said quietly. “It’s singularly disquieting material. And it spoke of this current outbreak long before any of this happened. You should read the whole thing.”
    “Are you fucking serious?” Erik looked perplexed.
    “Yeah. Julian, these guys need to see what you can do,” Donlan said. “Otherwise, it’s gonna scare ‘em, right when you need ‘em to hold fast.”
    Julian gave Donlan a long look and then nodded once. He extended a hand and called the envelope containing the prophecy to his grasp. Ethan jumped to his feet, cracking his head on the frame of the bunk. Jerry and Erik froze, eyes wide. Callum backed toward the door as though he meant to run.
    “Fuck me senseless,” Stephan whispered. The others just remained where they were, staring.
    “How much can you move?” Randall asked.
    “As much as a large man. I get stronger the more I practice, like anything else. I have enough fine control to open locks and write legibly with a pen. I am also a telepath, but I tend to avoid using that in direct speech with others. It’s extremely painful.”
    “I can vouch for that,” Caiaphas said. “That’s how he told me to get everyone out of that restroom and into the admin wing during the storm. I had a headache for days.”
    “Fuck this. Nuh-uh. I want out,” Callum said softly.
    “Remember what you swore,” Randall said. “We follow the Goði. And that means all of us.”
    “I think he should be allowed to opt out, if he chooses,” Julian set the prophecy down on the table beside him. “This is going to be dangerous. All of you are going to be exposed to a very dangerous strain of smallpox, with minimal protective equipment. I am attempting to get all of you doses of the vaccine, but I can’t promise they will give them to me. That’s not taking into account that any patient I treat might become violent and need to be restrained, which is the largest reason I asked for the group of you. I can’t care for a patient that is acting out violently, and I’m not willing to just leave a man in his cell to suffer. Callum, if you don’t want to assist directly, you can remain here in the dorm and help anyone who becomes sick. Even vaccinated, there will be risks.” He fixed each of them with a long stare. “Chances are, every one of you will exposed—possibly infected—at some point during this crisis. I have had the ACAM2000 vaccine as part of my inoculations while in the Navy. It’s supposed to be effective over a span of ten years, though in some people it does confer lifetime immunity. If any of you were military, those will be the people I am going to most want with me if I have to enter the cell of a violent or delirious patient.”
    “That’s Stephan, Callum, Jerry and me,” Ethan said. “Callum… you can stay here and effectively punk yourself. I won’t let the guys get on you for it. But if you do, I’m going to lose a lot of respect for you. I thought you were more than this.”
    “This isn’t what I signed up for. Smallpox and this guy moving shit with his mind, saying he can read our thoughts.”
    “It doesn’t quite work that way,” Julian said. “I can gage intent. If someone moves toward me aggressively, I have forewarning. But for me to actually force my way into someone’s mind would be incredibly damaging. The closest I have come to that has been to scan someone’s intent when they were either not entirely at peace with the idea, or I had to really dig deep to determine whether they could be trusted. In both cases, the person experienced a great deal of pain and had a massive nosebleed. Chances are, doing what you are afraid I will do would kill the target, potentially before I was able to garner anything useful. I didn’t even try doing it at the CIA black site I was assigned to in Iraq.”
    “You need to decide, Callum.” Caiaphas said. “We’re now at the point where choices have to be made quickly. We need to know if we can trust you not to cave when things get bad.”
    “How bad are we talking?”
    “North Korea purchased this virus from what was then the Soviet Union thirty years ago,” Julian said. “My attorney says that news sources are stating that North Korea finished the work of Biopreparat and engineered it to be far more lethal than normal. In hospital with supportive care, it has about a sixty-percent survival rate. Outside a hospital, it seems to be about where the Mayinga strain of Ebola is—about ninety-percent fatality if one is not vaccinated. The company that makes the vaccine has been monetizing it, which has made it difficult to inoculate even the first responders, let alone the general public. Martial law is in place in some areas, general anarchy in others.
    “As for what we can expect, we are under quarantine and getting supply drops at the gate. There has been some vaccine, but they have only been inoculating the staff thus far. The vaccine itself isn’t very effective at this stage, only offering about 30% protection.”
    “Do they have a vaccine for it? DPRK, I mean.” Ethan sat at the table and hooked the prophecy over, sliding it from its envelope.
    “Unknown. If they do, it hasn’t been made public. I know President Lassiter is threatening military action, potentially of an extreme nature. I’ve sent my followers into shelter until all this is settled, one way or the other.”
    “Followers? You got people on the outside?” Erik asked.

    “Ja natürlisch. We call ourselves the Pride. One of my spirit animals is the Bengal tiger.”
    “Some of what you say is just so damn Wiccan,” Stephan said.
    “He’s not Wiccan.” Donlan pointed to the prophecy. “We need to read that out loud. You’ll see what I mean.”
    Julian accepted the prophecy from Ethan and began to translate it aloud. Half an hour later, he was finished. The group of ten men was silent for long moments, and then Ethan spoke.
    “This man was a Lokisman, and it shows with every word he wrote. There’s a lot in this that matches the eschatological writings of a lot of different belief sets. The only thing I find really troubling is that your place in all of it is really ambiguous.”
    “I’m well aware. We are, however, talking about the literal fall of modern civilization.”
    “We’re also talking about a being that never offers anything without a catch. I find myself looking at your lips to see if I see any scars, Julian.” Ethan’s remark brought forth a part of the mythology in which Loki’s lips had been sewn shut by the dwarf Brokk, due to the sly Jötunn-turned-God’s glib tongue provoking anger.
    “I don’t care for that any more than I cared for it when members of my Pride suggested I was either the Antichrist or the Second Coming. I’m just a man. Scars? I have a Taser scar on my face that I got right here in this prison.”
    “This prison that you said you could walk out of, if you chose. I just watched you float that stack of nightmares across this dorm. You also have Loki’s tongue of silk and silver. How else would all of us be able to go from Max to the Honor Block without any of the steps between?”
    “Mazzara needs a doctor. I am the closest thing he has. I sought to better things for every man here.” Julian began to feel cornered. He drew a long, slow breath and focused on not allowing his hands to knot into fists.
    “The Father of the Wolf drives hard bargains. I didn’t believe in literal walking, breathing Gods, telepathy or telekinesis when I came into this dorm. But then I saw what you did and heard this prophecy. So, I’m going to say it. I think you’re an avatar. I think I’m looking at the Worldbreaker, right here in this fucking room with me. And here you want to use my men to keep you alive while you do whatever this is that you say you intend to do?”
    “None of this is my doing, Ethan. I was foretold as much as a protector as a killer.”
    “Yet. None of this is your doing, yet. We’re only about… what, a quarter of the way through the things talked about in there?” Ethan rested his arms on the table, folding them, leaning forward slightly. “You’ve got your security force, on once condition. If—when—it goes completely to fuck-all, you use those powers of yours to get us the fuck out. Once that shit spreads badly enough, there won’t be any more supply drops. They’ll pull the National Guard guys and put ‘em on things people actually give a fuck about, or they’ll desert. Maybe both.”
    “What do you use as an oathing ring, Ethan?”
    “It’s something given to us by an outreach ministry, along with our horn. Same deal: we can only have it when we’re actually using it.”
    “I’ll see if I can compel them to allow you to have both. The reason I ask is that I want to give you my word of honor that I’ll get you out of here the instant you require it—even if it’s the instant after I swear that oath.”
    “I know I don’t have to tell you how seriously we take oaths, so just on the basis of you making that offer, I’ll take you at your word for now. And I also think you’re the only way we’re getting vaccinated, so I’ll do this your way. But I have to say this prophecy has made me nervous. Maybe I didn’t entirely take you seriously, but that’s changed. I’ll be watching you, Julian. Loki might have fucked a horse to get the wall around Asgard built, but he also was the one who guided the blind god’s hand to let the mistletoe kill Baldr.”

    Julian went to see Marion as soon as he had the medical supplies he had asked for. She was being treated in the infirmary. He could tell she was in trouble the moment he reached her bedside. She had a large blotch of greyish-purple on her left cheek, beside her lips. The skin there had a charred appearance, characteristic of hemorrhagic smallpox.
    Her respiration was shallow and rapid, and the remainder of her face was ruddy with the high color of fever. She stared at him but only moaned a little as he ran some vitals on her. Her fever was a worrisome 104.1—too high for an adult to sustain safely. He gave her some acetaminophen to try and reduce the fever, and also administered lorazepam. The jagged dance of her light worried him; he did not want her to jump from the bed or pull out her IV from delirium. One of the other nurses stood by as he conducted a physical examination. They both gasped at he moved aside the hospital gown she wore. There were two blotches of the same dusky violet below her left breast, and another just over her navel. Sensing her discomfort, Julian added some morphine for the pain, careful of the dosage. When she drifted off, he nodded that the nurse should follow him outside the door.
    “I don’t know your name,” he said.
    “Elizabeth Sibley. I know you’re Julian Würger. Everyone at the Point knows who you are. I wanted to thank you for helping us in here.” Elizabeth was a soft-featured black woman with kind eyes, looking strong beneath some excess pounds.
    “I wish we were meeting under better circumstances. I’m sure I don’t need to tell you how serious this is. You’ve had the vaccine, I hope.”
    “I was one of the first ones to have it when it was dropped off. What we saw… that’s hemorrhagic, isn’t it?”
    “Unfortunately, yes. We need to move her, because things will be very messy at the end, and also very demoralizing for anyone that happens to see her. You need to understand that this usually is a fatal expression of the disease.”
    “I’m aware. Poor Marion doesn’t stand a damned chance. It would be kinder for her to just pass right now.”
    “I completely agree, but there’s nothing we can do other than make her as comfortable as we can. I gave her some Ativan along with the morphine. I’ll keep her as deeply under as possible.”
    “You’re nothing like she described you. She had me believing you were a monster.”
    “In a way, I am a monster. Just not the way she’d want you to think. I did everything I was convicted of doing. I had my reasons, but such reasons are not things understood by the normal run of mankind.”
    “I’m not going to think about or worry about that, Julian.” She surprised him by taking his hand and patting it gently. “Just get us through all this. I want to see my little boy again.”
    “This has to be very hard for you. I promise I’ll do my best, Elizabeth.” He scanned her light and smiled at its gentle hue of tangerine.
    “Call me Bee. Everyone does.”
    Marion, in denial about her condition and what it meant, had spread smallpox throughout the prison as she dispensed medication, only ceasing when she collapsed in AdSeg the day before Julian and Bee assessed her condition. Within three days, two more staff members and eleven inmates were symptomatic. Nine days later, Marion Sprague was dead, the disease was present in all cell blocks, and Julian himself spiked a fever of 101.2. He moved into the infirmary to prevent it from spreading to the other men in the dorm, determined to continue caring for patients as long as possible. When he developed the characteristic body aches and fatigue, he feared the worst, but then the vaccine seemed to do its job. He continued to work, snatching sleep where he could, eating only when Bee or one of the others in his dorm reminded him to do so.
    The cell blocks themselves remained on full lockdown, the men unable to leave their cells under any circumstances. Julian was both hated and sought—hated for being the bearer of bad news, sought for the muffling of pain he could provide when the disease struck. The tiers immersed themselves in bedlam, with men getting on the bars of their cell doors to shout and declaim, many of them making little sense. The old design of the prison meant that nothing kept the airborne virus from passing from cell to cell and tier to tier. Julian could only offer palliative care.
    His status as the de facto head of the medical department meant he had little to no restriction on his movements. Three weeks into the crisis, he got in touch with Ernie, simply using a telephone in an empty office to do so.
    “It’s me,” he said. “How is everyone?”
    “What the hell has been going on up there, Julian?” Ernie’s relief at hearing his voice was a tangible thing.
    “It’s best that you not know the entirety of the answer to that. Things aren’t good. I’ve been pressed into service as the ranking medical professional here. We’re quarantined. We’re getting food and medicines dropped to us, but Goddess only knows for how long. I need to know how everyone is doing.”
    “Well… Tristan and Carey have it. Tristan’s in bad shape, but Carey’s a tough bastard. They had to go out to try and get some supplies, and got exposed at a checkpoint. They’re stopping people for searches and shit all over town. We’re under martial law. Curfew from sunset to sunrise, people supposed to turn themselves in if they show symptoms. They chose to isolate themselves in Miss Celestine’s old room and try to ride it out—rumor has it that all they do for the infected is take them to quarantine camps and leave them to rot. I think Carey’s turned a corner, but I am very worried about Tristan. I had the vaccine when I was a little kid—”
    “And the Dryvax you received only lasts for about ten years. You could have exposed everyone else! Does Tristan have dark lesions anywhere on his body?”
    “What else would you want me to do, Julian?” Ernie sounded both exhausted and angry. “Let them just suffer alone? No; he’s got the rash and he’s had a really high fever. Carey has a few pustules on his face and chest, but was well enough to eat something last night.”
    “Tristan may pull through. The variant that’s killing people is blackpox, also called hemorrhagic smallpox. Understand this—you are to do what I say and keep my Pride alive. No one goes near Carey or Tristan without full face protection and gloves. When the scabs are off the vesicles, they will no longer be contagious. Since you’ve already exposed yourself, you are the only one who is to interact with them without protection, or touch their clothes or bedding to wash them. I will be home sooner as opposed to later, but for now, I have the Point to deal with, and there is something I need from you. I need you to go into the ritual space in the Den and collect my ritual tools, including my cards, my drinking horn and both my wands. I want all of John Parello Senior’s books of notes, and all of the journals from under my altar. Contact Chief McGrath; the recruiting office will have a line on him if the number I give you isn’t good any more. Move heaven and earth to get the stuff into his hands, and have him pass it to someone he knows in the National Guard, Civil Air Patrol, Air Force… whatever. Have this person bring it to the gates with the next supply drop here at Cooper Point. Let me know what he says. I will be at the gates to collect it.”
    “I’ll do my best. By the way, tiny… you’re still an overbearing ass.”
    Julian made his way to Warden Mazzara’s office after the phone call. The hurricane damage had been repaired long ago, and Mazzara had repurposed a smaller desk from one of the other offices rather than trying to requisition a new one. As Julian tapped at the door frame, he looked up.
    “What can I do for you, Julian?”
    “You’d agree that I’ve been doing my best for you, ja?”
    “Oh, Christ Jesus… you want something.”
    “Not anything that’s going to be difficult or problematic. I want Call of Gjallarhorn to be permitted to have their horn and oathing ring kept in the dorm. Other Honor Block men are allowed religious materials, including the baptistery tub used by some of the Christian groups. There’s been some friction and this would ease a great deal of it. I promised them I would try, and I don’t want to leave it any longer.”
    “I suppose that isn’t an issue. But what do you mean by ‘friction’? I hope I don’t have to wake up to more corpses than those being made for us by the pox.”
    “Nothing violent. There is a perception of ambiguity as to my place in the Hjorulfsson prophecy. There are places where it intersects somewhat troublingly with the Ragnarök cycle in Norse theology. I’m not sure you want all the details.”
    “At a time like this, all I want to know is that I won’t have to worry about the acting head of my infirmary killing a bunch more people for disagreeing with him.”
    “You and I both know I have only killed when there was a need. If it ends up being too great of a problem, I will take Donlan and go back to our cell. It’s a disagreement, not a crisis. And it brings me to another matter. When the next supply drop happens, I need to be out at the gate to meet them. They will be bringing me religious materials of my own. There may be items you would prefer to keep here in this office, and I take no issue with that. One of them is an athame, a ritual knife.”
    “Yeah, the knife needs to stay with me. I know Wiccans don’t use them in any violent way, and that you’re not with other men likely to do that either, but it’s still a weapon. As long as the rest of the stuff doesn’t have an actual edge or something, a few weird books, a drinking horn and a pentagram really are the last of my concerns.”
    “There will be two wands, some books and a chalice as well as my Tarot deck. I need my spirituality to keep me whole as I do what I am doing. And I’m not Wiccan—”
    “I know, I know, you’re a mystic. And you do need your faith behind you, just like I do. That will be the other reason I’m allowing you to have the stuff, that and the fact that you didn’t just try to sneak it past me.”
    “We’ll get through it, Warden..”
    “I’m trying to have your conviction. But all I have to do is take a breath in the wrong part of this prison. You said it yourself—it’s inevitable that I’ll catch it.”
    “Stay here. Stay in the admin wing, and don’t leave for any reason. That’s the only way you’re going to avoid it.”
    “Julian, I didn’t leave when I could have, because I refuse to leave these men to die. I might be the only thing that’s kept some asshole from sending the National Guard in to just shoot every swinging dick in here.”
    “Listen to me,” Julian said softly. He stepped the rest of the way into the office and around Mazzara’s desk. He took the Warden’s hands in his own, pressing them gently. “You need to continue to be here for exactly that reason. Browning’s been vaccinated. If the men really need to see someone in authority, let it be him. And I will continue to do my best to keep you and everyone else as safe as I can. The next month or so will be the worst. But after that, we will see a drop in overall cases. The people who are going to survive will show signs of pulling through.” He spotted Mazzara’s rosary on the desk. Releasing one of the Warden’s hands, he picked it up. He placed it in Mazzara’s hands and folded them over it. “We don’t share a faith. But we do share one thing: hope. And I want you to pray your hardest, Warden. It doesn’t matter that you pray to the Virgin Mary. To me, she is the Goddess, anyway. May She bless you. I’m not angry with you anymore.”
    Warden Mazzara tried to speak; what emerged instead were tears. Unable to see the pain of one he respected without offering comfort, Julian reached out and did what he had done so many times—drew the older man into an embrace, feeling his tears soaking into the shoulder of his grey scrubs. He said no words to quell the flood. He offered strength and silent support until the Warden was able to gain control of the spate of emotion.
    “Sorry. I’m losing my shit, man.” Mazzara wiped at his eyes.
    “You have to feel it to heal it. I’ve done my share of crying since the beginning of all of this. There is no shame in letting the emotions have their way so you can move past them and do what needs to be done.”

    Thursday, July 26th, 2012
    The vehicles from the National Guard convoy glinted in the distance as it made its way up the winding road that led to the broad and weathered butte where Cooper Point Federal Penitentiary was located. Julian, standing unrestrained beside Lieutenant Joshua Thorne, watched their antlike progress as they approached. He closed his eyes and sought out the minds of the soldiers in charge. There were two platoons of thirty soldiers apiece, led by two lieutenants and a captain. The captain, female, had a light that appealed intensely to Julian. The deep lilac hue was a strong, true pulse of dedication and honor. One of the lieutenants was somewhat nondescript, a soft brown. Julian moved from his mind to that of the other, and recoiled with distaste. The officer had a revolting ecru light that reminded Julian of the color of adipose tissue. The mind sheathed in the light was a toxic, angry one, and he felt himself tensing again.
    “Something wrong, Julian?” Thorne asked. “You look pissed off.”
    “An impression I have. I follow my hunches.” He gave Thorne a sidelong glance. “And this one says we might be in for some trouble. Just be ready.”
    The convoy pulled up to the gate and the captain exited the lead vehicle. Julian was even more astounded as he gazed upon her. She was well over six feet in height with close-cropped titian hair and brilliantly-blue eyes. Her face was sun-kissed with freckles, and the curve of her lips was that of a woman who loved to laugh. She had the powerful build of a professional weightlifter. Waving the men attending her back toward the gates, she approached alone and unmasked. As she came close, Julian could see a few faint, round scars on her brow and on one cheek. Her freckles had hidden them at a distance.
    This woman had survived smallpox.
    Thorne at his side, Julian stepped forward, unable to keep from smiling. As Thorne opened the gate, Julian offered a hand.
    “I’m Julian Würger. I am the acting head of the medical department here at Cooper Point.”
    “The stories do no justice,” the captain said, smiling. “I’m Captain Brielle Donegal. I knew they had been forced to appoint you as medical head due to the nature of this crisis and the quarantine. I’m actually glad you’re here. An old friend of yours sent something with us that I have to give to you.”

    “Danke schön, Captain. I know what it is and it will make the situation a lot easier for me to cope with. I need to ask, though. Do you have doses of vaccine? Has there been any progress in developing something more effective?”
    “No luck there. I’d swear that this dickslap from Mainwaring Pharmaceuticals is intentionally holding up progress to squeeze more money out of this. Even with the Congressional investigation and the FDA fast-tracking any new vaccine they produce, they’re still poormouthing and claiming they don’t have enough funding. Of course, some of us have already been through the fire.” She grinned, and then made a gesture to one of the men behind her. The Private walked back to the truck and came out with an item Julian recognized. It was the chest in which he kept his horn, his wand and gandr, and also his runestones. He accepted it with a grateful smile, but could not help but notice that the private flinched.
    The two platoons began bringing in the food and supplies. Julian noted that there was nothing on offer other than MREs. The medical resupply was worse. There were few surgical masks and nitrile gloves, and there were no IV rigs. The medicines were nothing more than standard antibiotics, acetaminophen and gabapentin. There were no other pain meds, and all of the medications were oral. Julian felt a chill of worry. His sickest patients would be unable to swallow pills due to the vesicles inside their mouths and throats.
    “Is there nothing else?” he asked Captain Donegal.
    “You’re lucky to get a goddamn thing, scumbag,” the lieutenant Julian had sensed and disliked intruded. “Lot of worthwhile civilians could have used this stuff. They should leave trash like you to rot.”

    “Kann man in der Hölle schmoren,” Julian said, with a warm smile that did not cool the hate in his eyes.
    “I don’t know what you said, you ginger freak, but do it again—”
    “If he does it again, he’s my problem. Not yours.” Thorne stepped between them. “You know better than to act that way in front of enlisted men. If I was still in the Marines and one of my superiors showed his ass like that, I would lose every shred of respect I had for him. You are no longer welcome on the Cooper Point campus. Captain Donegal, don’t bring this man here again. Last thing I need is someone who’s an outsider to hurt one of my inmates and kick off a riot. Just because most of these men are on lockdown doesn’t mean they can’t flood their cells or find a way to start a fire.”
    “Bellamy, hit the other end of the working party and keep ‘em moving.” When Lieutenant Bellamy was out of earshot, Captain Donegal shook her head. “Sorry about him. Some of these guys weren’t my choice to bring up here.”
    “Not your fault,” Julian said softly. He looked to Thorne then. “You were a Marine?”
    “Force Recon.” Those two words put much into perspective. As a former special operator, Thorne seemed to feel a touch of kinship with Julian, fallen though he was.
    “Semper Fi.” Julian grinned, with a flash of metal.
    “I am never going to get used to those damn teeth.”
    “Let me see.” Captain Donegal leaned over to look more closely at Julian’s mouth. “Well, that’s not intimidating at all.”
    “That’s not why I did it.” Julian couldn’t help but chuckle. “I had to get some teeth replaced while I was in Dubai, and they didn’t have an enamel match. And I can’t stand a lack of symmetry.”
    “So it’s a metrosexual thing. Got it.”
    “Are you picking on me? I’m telling. Lieutenant Thorne… this woman is picking on me.”
    “And you’re flirting,” Thorne said. He laughed at Julian’s vivid blush. “You just turned as red as that hair.”
    “Now you’re both picking on me.”
    “Yeeeup.” Donegal leaned forward and patted Julian’s cheek. “I enjoy picking on guys that think they’re badass.”
    “Do I come off that way?”
    “Yes and no.” She gave an enigmatic smile.
    “What does that mean?” Julian found himself feeling more perplexed by the instant.
    “It’s sticky, complicated girl stuff. Kind of like makeup.”
    “I’ll tell you a secret.” He leaned over and cupped a hand to Captain Donegal’s ear. “I used to wear makeup occasionally on the outside. Die-hard Goth. And I still am.”
    “What? You were a Goth?” She gave his shoulder a playful shove. “Get outta town!”
    “He was,” Thorne said. “I met him before I went from the regular police force to corrections. He’s the only spooky kid I have ever met that actually was scary. And you two need some space between you.” The last words were said with a smile, but were in earnest.
    “Lighten up, Thorne. I’m just having a little fun.”
    “The man’s still an inmate.” The tone was kind, but it was clear that Thorne was setting a boundary.
    “I’ll bring the supplies to the infirmary.” Julian offered Captain Donegal a wink and picked up one of the boxes.
    As he carried it into the infirmary, he wondered at his surge of attraction to Captain Donegal. He had only felt carnal desire for three women in his life: Noelléa, Delia and Fereshteh. None of those situations had felt the way this did. He felt a sort of animal lust toward the Captain. It was quite a physical thing, unanchored to true emotion. The raw need was uncharacteristic. Even in the case of Delia, it had been tempered with compassion. In Donegal’s case, he found he simply wanted to put her under him and grind her to a pulp.

    And it’s not like I am going to get a chance. At least not yet, he thought.
    But the matter would be set aside through necessity. That night, things turned bad.

    “I’m sick,” Randall said.
    The words came as Julian returned to the dorm. He went at once to Randall. Looking him over, he saw the ashen undertone to the man’s face. Taking a forehead-scan thermometer from the pocket of his scrubs, he ran it over Randall’s brow. He had a fever of 102.2.
    This left him with a terrible decision to make. If he brought Randall to the infirmary, it was as good as leaving him for dead. Julian’s vision had manifested itself in every detail. Only patients that had graphically-terminal symptoms were housed there or in other areas that had been repurposed to hold the sick. Many of them had true blackpox, their skin sliding off the underlying tissue in sheets, soaking their bedding with an unstemmable ooze of blood and fluids. The stink was a fulsome, sweet reek of death.
    “We have to decide what to do,” he said gently. “If I keep you here, you could cause the rest of these men to become sick. But the infirmary… it’s bad, Randall. People there are dying, and you would be in a very terrible environment.”
    “Well, I’m not staying here and killing my Kindred. Put up a partition so I can’t see it.”
    “The problem is, you would hear and smell it.” Julian chose to be clear in his words.
    “How bad is it?” Randall licked his lips and then swallowed hard. He winced as he did so.
    “It’s an abbatoir,” Julian said.
    “I don’t know what that word means, but I sure as shit know the look on your face. If something has you freaked, it has to be real fucking bad. But my decision stands. I’m not getting the rest of the guys in here sick. Let’s go.”
    Julian led him out of the honor wing and into the building that housed the laundry facilities, the areas where inmates did labor, and the infirmary. Because no one was able to work, the large rooms where items were manufactured as part of the prison labor system had been converted to infirmary wards. As the two of them passed these areas, the raving, moans and screams of the dying could be heard. The smell became first thick, and then so revolting that Randall had to stop to vomit. Julian did his best to offer comfort, holding back the man’s long hair as he heaved up his guts.
    They arrived in the space Julian had set aside for patients who were less unwell. The odor was still present, but not as strong. Julian got him settled on one of the bunks that had been taken from empty cells to fit the needs of the dying. He did his best to make him comfortable, hanging a sheet as a makeshift privacy screen. He started an IV and added a small amount of hydromorphone and lorazepam. He then conducted a physical examination.
    Randall had vesicles in his throat. That meant that all of the men in the dorm had been exposed. Though Julian did not allow it to show, he felt true fear. He knew he would not contract this strain a second time, but he was very worried about Donlan and the others, and fretted over how much to tell them. As soon as he saw that Randall had drifted off from the medication, he returned to the dorm. Callum and Erik were there, suffering through a meal of MREs.
    “As soon as you two finish eating, I need you do go and find the others. I need everyone here as soon as possible,” Julian said.
    “That sounds ominous as fuck.” Erik shoved aside the pouch of indeterminate meat. “I can’t eat this shit anyway. I’ll go after ‘em.” He did not object when Callum grabbed the rest of the MRE. He left the dorm.
    “So, what’s this about, Red?” Callum asked.
    “It’s best that I have everyone together before I talk about it.”
    “Smallpox. Either you’re sick, or someone else is. Right?” Callum’s eyes took on a hollow look of dread.
    “I’m not sick,” Julian said. “I’ve already had it. I had a subclinical expression of the disease. But you’re correct. Randall has vesicles in his throat and has spiked a fever. That means everyone in here has been exposed.”
    “That fucking shit. I’ll kill him.” Callum rose to his feet and hurled the MRE pouch against the wall, leaving a splatter of sauce and shredded beef. “He knew he was sick! He just kept saying he was tired!”
    “Listen to me.” Julian crossed the room, putting his hands on Callum’s shoulders and making him sit. “In a pandemic like this, people go into denial very easily. They don’t want to believe they’ve caught the disease, and they make stupid decisions. This got started because Marion Sprague caught it outside and brought it in. She did the same thing Randall did, and it certainly wasn’t an intentional act.” Julian chose to keep his personal feelings on Marion’s actions a private matter. “The only thing we can do is deal with it. I’m not going to get sick. And I’m not going to abandon you. I will give you all the best care I can, right here in the dorm. I want to have a vote on it, but I feel that since everyone has already been exposed, any of you that get sick should be cared for right here, among men you love and respect.”
    “How do you fuckin’ do it, Julian?” The hollowness had returned. “Go in there every fuckin’ day and see people just falling apart? I seen you covered in blood, pus and shit, and acting like it’s only water on your hands and your scrubs.”
    “I do it because it needs to be done,” Julian said. “There’s no one else. And I’d take it on even if there were other choices, because medicine is what I love. I’ll get you through this, all of you, just like I did during Roslyn.”
    A few minutes later, Erik returned with the rest of the men from Call of Gjallarhorn, as well as Donlan and Caiaphas. Julian nodded to them to be seated at the table, but Donlan chose to remain standing beside Julian.
    “I have some unfortunate news. Randall has smallpox. Right now, he’s in the infirmary. He has fully-formed lesions in his throat and on the back of his tongue. And this, in turn, means everyone here has been exposed.” He drew a breath looking over the faces in the room—anger on some, sorrow on others. “The reason I called everyone here is that I want to put it to a vote as to whether he stays in the infirmary, or I care for him here, as well as anyone else that becomes sick. Being exposed is not a guarantee you will contract Variola major. However, having him here would potentially expose you to more infective material than just the fact that it’s an airborne virus.”
    “Man… I knew that motherfucker was bullshitting us.” Jerry’s cheeks were flushed with hectic color. “He’s been dragging ass for about a week now. And from what you said, that’s about the way this bitch goes.”
    “Understand this,” Julian said. “As I told Callum, during a pandemic, fear can make people go into denial. They make decisions that are not rational. One such person was Marion, the nurse that brought the illness to Cooper Point to start with. Being angry at Randall isn’t the answer.”
    “But who says you’re the one who calls a vote here?” Callum asked, his tone sullen.
    “I do.” Ethan was working on one of the MREs, his mouth full as he spoke. “This man saved our asses and he’s the one with the power right now. I’m a spiritual leader. He’s a battle chief in this situation. So, soon as I finish stuffing my face, we get the horn out, write down our votes, and put ‘em in the horn. This way, no one knows who voted which way.”
    “A very good idea.” Julian was deeply relieved to have Ethan take his side. “Would you do the honors? I have my horn here now, but you may not like it.”
    “Fuck no, we use yours.” Ethan said. “For one thing, I want to see it.”
    “I’m not entirely comfortable with that. I’ll show it to you, but it’s a piece that’s highly personal to me. When you see it, you will understand why. It was carved by the same man who wrote the prophecy.”
    “Then we really have to use it, Julian. But I’ll look at it first.”
    Julian led him to where the crate with his magical tools rested on his bunk. He had not put them away, partly due to worry about what the men of Call of Gjallarhorn would make of them. He opened the crate and stepped back, allowing Ethan to look. He winced inwardly when Ethan immediately picked the horn up to inspect it.
    “Yeah, this is old, I can tell. Horn doesn’t start to yellow like this for a while. And this Goði of yours certainly knew how to carve. I see what you’re worried about, but I need to show this and that gandr to the men. The pouch—that’s runes, I suspect.”

    “Ja, it is. I am not as good with them as I am with Tarot, though.”
    “Well, the use of the runes as a method of divination is really contested. A lot of people feel it doesn’t have historicity. My call on it is that you are not technically a part of my Innangarð, so what you do isn’t going to impact the rest of us. Letting the Kindred see this stuff’ll give legitimacy to who and what you are. You know what I think already.”
    “I’m not some kind of avatar, Ethan.”
    “I see the word ‘Weltenbrecher’—Worldbreaker—right here. In your native German.”
    “You never told me you spoke German.”
    “I haven’t told you a lot of stuff. One thing I did tell you, Red, is that I’m watching you. Let’s bring this over. Gandr and runes as well.”
    Julian took the items up and walked over to the table. He opened the pouch and spilled the carved river stones onto the table, and then set down the gandr and horn. He then stepped back and watched the faces of the men of the Kindred.
    Callum, as he expected, recoiled. He got up from his seat and moved toward his bunk with a shudder. Erik leaned forward and caressed the carving with the tip of one finger. Jerry shuddered and also rose, moving away.
    “Can you guys deal?” Ethan asked.
    “No, not really. I don’t want to be anywhere near that thing, and fuck-all if that gandr isn’t human bone.” Callum’s lip curled with disgust.
    “It is,” Julian said. “You don’t have to touch it. Can you tolerate dropping a slip of paper into the horn?”
    “Yeah, I guess, but I won’t take part in any Blót or Sumbel where that fucker is being used.”
    “You don’t have to,” Ethan interjected. “We’re using it to vote, because Julian’s running this particular show. And my bet is he doesn’t want anyone messing with the runes or the gandr.”
    “That’s correct. Not that any of you would do such a thing, I know. Not to rush, but we need to get this done, so I can decide how best to move forward with caring for Randall. Those in favor of bringing him back here, just write ‘Yea’. Otherwise, write ‘Nay’. Then drop them into the horn and I will do the count.”
    Donlan rose and retrieved a piece of yellow legal paper. He tore it into small slips and passed them out. They each wrote their votes on them, dropping them into the horn. Julian wrote his ‘Yea’ down and was the last man to drop the paper in. He then took the horn to his bunk and covered the opening with his hand. He shook the slips of paper so as not to know who had written which, and then one by one laid them out on his bunk. He saw eight ‘yea’ votes, counting his own. Donlan’s was a ‘yea’; the young man had appended the words ‘you ugly cunt’ to his vote. He smiled a little at the ribaldry, and then rose, walking to rejoin the others.
    “I have seven in favor, counting my own. If anyone wants to take a look I left them all laid out on my bunk.”
    “No, man, we believe you,” Stephan said. “Randall belongs here in his time of need, not lying in there to rot. We all swore loyalty to one another. Bring him back, Red. We’ll eat the risks.” There were murmurs of assent to the words, but Julian noticed that Jerry and Callum would not meet his gaze.
    “It is time to go check on him anyway, and I’ll bring him back here. Best place for him will be right next to the head.”
    “That means I gotta move,” Bonner said. “Someone change out his sheets. I sure as hell don’t want to get it if I can avoid it, and I know you can catch it from bedding.”
    “Switch with me, and I’ll take his bunk,” Julian said. “I’ll be right back with Randall.”
    A few minutes later, Julian returned, partly supporting Randall, who was so heavily medicated that he could barely stay on his feet. Julian put him in the bunk closest to the bathroom door and cobbled together a place to hang his IV bag. He gave him a little more pain medication and ran some vitals. Frowning, he noted that Randall’s fever had risen to an alarming 103.5. It was a bad sign. Many of those that developed so high a fever so soon quickly had the telltale marks of ashy black spreading across their faces.
    “On second thought, it may be best if I am beside him. That puts a bunk between Randall and the next man over. Erik, would you be all right with changing with Cai so I can stay right by Randall?”
    “Good with that.” Erik said. He and Caiaphas began moving their personal effects.
    Julian settled in the bunk beside Randall. He would give the ailing man as much of his time as possible, but had many other patients to tend. Cooper Point Federal Penitentiary was at one hundred sixty-eight percent capacity—many cells intended to hold only one inmate were occupied by two, and the overcrowding was contributory to the number of cases present. Out of over two thousand inmates, just over fourteen hundred had been infected. Of these, almost nine hundred were dead. Julian found himself faced with a very dark game of mathematics.
    Despite having hastily trained a few of the CERT team to handle patients, he and Bee were now the only certified medical personnel on the prison campus. He and Bee could not tend to over five hundred severely ill patients alone, taking on more as others became infected. He reached to the shelf at his side and picked up his Tarot deck. Closing his eyes, he drew three.
    Central was a card that made Julian wince. The Devil, goatlike and phallic with the bound figures tormented at his hoofed feet. To its left was the pastel tones of The Empress, cradling lilies in her hand, with the shield and swan at her feet. And to the right of The Devil was The Moon. This card revealed two black towers that brooded over a forbidding landscape, the waning moon above them, horns down. Falling from the pale crescent were five scarlet Yods, like drops of blood. Superimposed over each tower was the figure of Anubis, holding the symbol for Mercury in its hand, each figure with a jackal at his feet. Behind the towers were two barren mountains, and a river flowed from between them to merge with a murky lake at their feet. Seen beneath the water was Khephera, the sacred scarab that bore the sun across the sky. The ripples of red and blue within the water gave it an ominous appearance.
    Julian stared at the three cards, and the weight of their meaning took shape within him. He covered his face with his hands, struggling to steady his breathing. He had, he realized, known what question he was asking, even though he did not allow the words to form themselves in his mind.
    He would have to begin euthanizing the terminal smallpox cases, if anyone at Cooper Point was to survive what was to come. And he would have to carry the burden of the fear and hate felt by others when they realized what he had done. Seeking a different answer—any answer—he drew a fourth card, eyes closed, laying it down across the others, focusing his question. What happens if I don’t do this? He opened his eyes.
    Laying across the first three cards was the Tower.
    Julian rose, putting the deck back together. He replaced it on the shelf and stepped into the bathroom. There were two stalls and a shower, and he entered one of the stalls. He sat on the toilet and let the tears come. To destroy lives was nothing new to him. However, to take the lives of patients—people that relied upon him in their pain—went against everything he believed in. He knew, however, that he had to preserve the lives of those that had a chance to live through what was surely to come after. The agony he felt was ineffable, and matched the Hjorulfsson prophecy entirely. He did not want to trouble the others with it.
    He chose to begin immediately. Julian reached to what was left of the mind of the worst of his terminal patients. What he sensed remind him of Miss Lindon, a lifetime ago. There was a burned hole in the astral where the man used to be, clad in nothing but pain. Julian slid deeper into the dying mind and began to shut down the dying guard’s medulla oblongata, the part of his brain that controlled his heart rate and breathing. He did it as gently and humanely as he could, sending him into the dark with compassion.
    That night, he would send forty-three souls into the arms of whatever divine being they held dear. With each and every one, he wept.

    The third day after Randall’s illness began, Julian saw the first black blotches. They had erupted on the left temple and along his jaw on the opposite side. Julian now knew that once a patient displayed this symptom, it was hopeless. Only Donlan and Ethan were present as he noted this development.
    “Randall… I need you to wake up if you can, my friend. I need to tell you something.” He pressed the ailing man’s hand with his own.
    “Awake,” Randall managed to rasp. His eyes were red from subconjunctival bleeding, and Julian could tell that he was unable to see.
    “You have blackpox,” he said gently. As he spoke, Ethan came over to stand beside him.
    “I’m here as well, brother,” Ethan said quietly.
    “Fuck,” Randall moaned. His scarlet eyes filled with tears, and Julian heard Donlan gasp. The liquid was bloody.
    “You don’t have to go through it.” He spoke the words without caring who was there to hear them. “I can send you off in peace, without pain. There’s no need to suffer for a week.”
    “You’ve done that?” Ethan asked.
    “Send me.” The words came at great effort, but there was an agony of plea in Randall’s failing voice.
    “I’ve had to, yes.” Julian said, glancing to Ethan. “But not the way you think.”
    “He asked you to do it. Donny, I want you to wait outside. No offense.”
    Anger and a tapetum flash bloomed in Donlan’s eyes, but he departed when Julian gave him a slight shake of his head. Julian sat close beside Randall and picked up his hand.
    “Sleep, my friend, and dream. Slow, deep breaths. Don’t be afraid; I send you to a place not of darkness, but light. Release the pain and the fear and take flight. I free you, unbind you, and never again shall fetters weight your limbs. Go at last away from these walls and walk in the sun. Sleep, my friend, and dream.” By the time Julian finished the soft words, Randall’s chest had risen and fallen for the last time. Upon his face was a soft smile of wonder.
    “Julian, I’m sorry,” Ethan said. “I’m sorry I doubted you like I did. That’s probably the first true mercy the poor bastard has ever had in his life.” Tears streaked the Goði’s cheeks, soaking into his beard.
    “I wish I felt the same,” Julian whispered. He had sent over one hundred souls beyond pain in the ensuing three days since Randall had been diagnosed. “It hurts every time I have to do this.”
    “How many, Red?” Ethan drew a sheet over Ethan’s face. The tracks of blood from the tears he had shed left a bloom of blood upon it.
    “Over a hundred. You’ve read what’s coming. I can’t count on many more supply drops from the National Guard. I am going to have to keep as many supplies and medicines as I can, because we are going to need to shelter in place when everything goes down. And we will be here for up to a month before we can leave.”
    “Well, for what it’s worth, you have us. No more doubts.” He offered an embrace, and Julian responded with warmth. “If you didn’t have the beginnings of a tribe of your own, I’d offer to sponsor you into Call of Gjallarhorn.”
    “I would make a poor fit, I’m afraid, but that means a lot. Speaking of my tribe, Donlan’s upset. I’m going to go find him and talk to him. And then I will need to take care of Randall.”
    Julian cast about and located Donlan sitting outside at the table in the Honor Block courtyard. The young man had his elbows resting on the table, chin in his hands. As Julian slid onto the bench across from him, he looked up, and the moonlight danced over the tapetum layer in his eyes. Julian smiled and offered a hand, and Donlan accepted it.
    “Can you forgive him?” Julian asked.
    “Nothin’ to forgive. Only reason I was bothered was I can tell you’re upset.”
    “I am. I’m having to send people to the Gods very frequently now. We don’t have much longer.”
    “I know. I know we don’t. This is just the beginning.”
    “I can’t save them all. I have hard choices ahead of me.”
    “I’m with you. So is Cai. I’d lay down my fuckin’ life for you.”
    “As would I for you, mein Bruder.” He rose. “Come and help me take care of poor Randall.”

    Julian took great care in selecting which patients he needed to euthanize, but it was inevitable that someone would notice the spike in deaths. He was in the infirmary office completing charts when Bee stepped into the room and closed the door behind her. Her light held glints of coppery suspicion.
    “Got something you want to tell me, Julian?”
    “Not in here,” he answered. He saved the chart he was working on and then powered down the computer. “Walk with me.”
    He led her out of the infirmary and into the admin wing. Most of the offices did not have cameras within them, and he selected one he knew to be vacant. He used his telekinesis to manipulate the lock. He entered and sat behind the empty desk, swinging his legs up before him. He nodded to Bee, indicating that she should sit.
    “How did you open that door?” There was a tremor of nervousness in her voice.
    “I’ll get to that. I have a lot to tell you, and I am hoping you are not a skeptic.”
    “I already know freaky shit happens around you. I’ve heard stories and everyone has heard you roar or seen your eyes glow. Julian… are you euthanizing patients?”
    “Yes.” He chose not to offer more than the single word, in favor of watching her reaction. He needed to know how she would respond to a shock of the more mundane kind before he laid the entire truth before her.
    “You know I have to report this to the Warden,” she said carefully.
    “I will go with you as you do so, because I agree that he needs to know. But before you pass judgment on me, I need to reveal a few things to you.
    “We currently have new cases emerging almost constantly. We have no way of preventing this illness from spreading, due to the age and layout of this facility. Also, it’s become obvious that the North Koreans have worked very carefully to make this strain of the virus much more contagious. Usually, it takes prolonged contact or contact with infective material. We’ve been seeing a rate of infection more like influenza or a rhinovirus.
    “Supply drops are now spotty. We’re out of masks, because they only brought half of what we requested. We will be out of IV kits within the week if they don’t bring more, and my suspicion is that they won’t. We are low on pain medications and the antibiotics we use to manage secondary infections. We’re losing people from cellulitis as well as smallpox. They are not bringing what is needed because the population outside is seen as a higher priority. In short, if they have not done so already, the National Guard and local authorities will soon abandon us entirely. Who cares about a bunch of inmates?
    “So, yes, I have been euthanizing the most severe of our terminal patients, because I want to be able to have a single chance in hell of saving anyone else.
    “You tell me, Elizabeth. Do I save some? Or none?”
    “You can’t play God—”
    “I’m not playing God, Bee. I’m doing what I was trained to do in the event of a crisis involving weapons of mass destruction. In war—and mark my words, we are at war—one has to engage advanced triage. One conserves supplies and utilizes them to preserve the lives of those one knows will survive. The men that have died were all bleeding out under their skins. There was not one thing I could do for them other than end their pain. Do you think it came easily?” Until this point, he had been able to remain stoic as he spoke. But the pain of each death weighed upon him, and he could not stop tears from blurring his sight.
    “How are you doing it?” Bee’s eyes were also tear-filled. “Please tell me you have at least been kind.”
    “That leads into the rest of what I want to tell you. You asked how I opened this office door. I will show you.” He extended a hand and telekinetically closed the door. The click as he locked it was audible, and Bee jumped.
    “Oh, Lord Jesus,” she whispered. She began to back away.
    “Don’t be afraid, Bee,” he said gently. He unlocked and opened the door. “Of all people in this place, you are the one who has the least reason to fear me. I’m metanormal—that’s what I call it. You know another, and that’s Donlan Cross, though his abilities are not emergent. You asked how I am euthanizing these patients. I am also a telepath, and I have been going into brainstems of terminal patients and repressing their heartbeat and breathing, as well as their ability to feel pain.” As he spoke the next words, his voice broke, and he let the tears fall. “I have been giving them the gentle arms of dark. Freeing them from the pain and squalor of how they were dying. I was asked to save lives. I am doing that. But this disease, Bee… I can’t save them all.”
    “You could leave,” she whispered. “You could have just walked out at any time, and you still stayed.”
    “I stayed because I am needed here. The people I have on the outside are well seen to. I had a great deal of money and have made sure it was spent in protecting them. But… Caiaphas, Donlan, the Warden and you… how could I leave, and just leave you to this?” He swung his legs down from the top of the desk and rose. He stepped around and offered a hand, which Bee accepted. “Let’s go talk to the Warden. There is even more that I could tell you, and I want Mazzara there for that.”
    “I don’t want to tell him about this anymore,” Bee whispered, wiping her eyes.
    “I still do. He needs to know. Come… don’t cry. We can’t give in to despair.”
    They walked down the hallway to Mazzara’s office. The door stood partially open, and they entered. Julian could immediately tell that something was wrong. Mazzara slumped in his chair, one hand wrapped around the neck of the bottle of Scotch he kept in his desk. He was deeply drunk and clearly had been weeping. Julian went to him, gently taking the bottle from his hand, setting it on the desk.
    “Bee, we need to run some vitals,” he said softly. He removed the Warden’s tie and loosened his collar. As he touched him, he felt the heat of Mazzara’s skin. He eased him over to the small couch in the office and slid off his shoes. As he did so, Mazzara stirred. When he opened his eyes, they were crimson.
    “Julian,” he whispered. “I’m done… I’m sick.”
    “You probably have smallpox, but you might not be ‘done’. Either way, I’m here.” He could hear Bee running to get a mobile vitals unit from the infirmary. “How long have you had symptoms?”
    “I realized I had a fever about an hour ago. Bring me that Scotch. Maybe I can drink enough to go that way.” He gave a weak laugh that sounded more like a sob.
    “Respiratory failure is a bad way to die. Please try to relax. No matter, what, Warden—”
    “Johnny. Call me Johnny. I want someone to just say my name.” Tears leaked from Johnny’s terrified eyes.
    “Johnny, then.” He held the fever-hot hands, stifling the urge to allow tears to spill over. “I give you my word that I’m going to do everything I can for you. Where is Browning?”
    “I don’t know. I haven’t seen him since late last night.”
    Bee came in, wheeling the vitals unit. Julian took a set of vitals and frowned. Johnny’s heart rate was elevated, hammering at 140 beats per minute. Julian knew it could be due to the fever, the fear or both. His blood pressure was elevated, but not dangerously so. It was Johnny’s fever that caused Julian worry. His temperature was 103.1.
    “I need to conduct a physical examination, Johnny, all right? I need to see if you have the rash anywhere. Open your mouth for me and give me a nice ‘Aah’.” When Johnny complied, Julian’s heart sank. He could see a deep violet color and swelling at the back of his throat and the base of his tongue, a frequent precursor to a fatal outcome. Of this, he said nothing. “Is your throat sore?”
    “It’s fucking miserable. That’s why I started drinking. Was hoping the booze would numb it a bit.”
    “I’m going to need to wait to get the alcohol out of your system before I will be able to give you medication for the pain. But there are other things I can do for you.”
    “Do ‘em. What can it hurt? I’ve got more of a death sentence than you at this point.”
    Julian pressed Johnny’s hands and closed his eyes. His training had covered the way the human body processes pain, but he had not yet attempted to interfere in this mechanism using his abilities. He envisioned the pathways from the nociceptors that detected pain to the lateral spinothalamic tract, and reached to this area to dull the discomfot. He was relieved when the Warden gave a groan and relaxed.
    “I can’t do this for very long, but I can manage until the alcohol clears from your system,” he said. The words came slowly, surfacing above his need to concentrate to block off the pain.
    “What did you do?” Johnny whispered.
    “Something I’ve never tried before. Don’t worry about it right now. You need to rest, and I need to focus. Bee… let the men in my dorm know where I am and what’s going on, please.”
    “On my way,” Bee said softly. Julian could hear the soft awe in her voice.
    Julian sat, Johnny’s hands pressed between his own. The longer he remained in tune with the Warden, the more he could sense. He could feel Johnny’s body rallying what few reserves were left against the marauder within. He could sense the toxins that were building within the man, and the immunoresponse that was elevating his temperature. It was as though he were watching a fortress under siege by a superior foe. Johnny’s psoriasis was a further complication. The autoimmune disease would cause the virus to do far greater damage than it would in someone with normal skin. Even if Johnny survived, he would be severely disfigured in any area where the plaques were present, and his risk of opportunistic infection was far greater.
    Julian heard several pairs of approaching footsteps, and the creaking of the wheels of a gurney. He opened his eyes and saw that Erik, Donlan and Bee had brought a gurney in. Julian managed a nod, allowing them to move the Warden onto it. All the while, he kept one of Johnny’s dry, hot hands in his own, blocking the pain. He was dimly aware of Bee starting an IV in the man’s other arm, and administering fluids.
    “Cross,” Johnny said. “Your guitar… in my closet. Get it… sing for me.”
    Donlan nodded and walked to the closet. Lovingly, he drew out an acoustic guitar with blond wood, caressing its strings with long fingers. He tuned the instrument, the sound rich and mellow, and then began to play. Knowing the Warden was Christian, the young man began to sing Amazing Grace.
    Even as immersed as Julian was in holding back Johnny’s pain, he felt tears sting his eyes. Donlan was more than gifted—he was brilliant. The beauty of his voice was matched by subtlety and skill in the use of his instrument. Despite the Christian nature of the hymn, Julian was profoundly moved. The music also seemed to be helping Johnny regain some calm. Julian could feel his heart slow somewhat, and his blood pressure lower.
    “May he keep it?” Julian asked, after the last notes faded. “Need it myself, with all that’s going on.”
    “I trust you, Julian,” Johnny said. His voice was more steady. “If anyone needs Donlan Cross to sing, it’s you.”
    “Bring him to the dorm,” Donlan said softly. “That way, I can play for him whenever he’s awake. Right up until he gets up and about.”
    “Do you want to do that? Stay with us?” Julian asked.
    “I’d feel better knowing someone was close. Someone I know I don’t have to worry about. Speaking of worrying, I need Browning in here.”
    “I’ll find him,” Erik said. He left the office.
    Julian went silent once more, jacking into Johnny’s physical condition. He continued to damp the pain. He did not realize it, but his chest rose and fell in time with Johnny’s. Someone monitoring their heartbeats would see that they were synchronized as well. Julian, without realizing it, was keeping Johnny’s vital signs stable. After an hour passed, Julian found that he was beginning to get a headache. He tried to push through it and continue to block Johnny’s pain, but the longer he remained connected to the Warden, the worse it became.
    “I need to rest. Are you able to tolerate the pain until I get some ibuprofen to kick in?” he asked
    “Of course. I didn’t know it was actually hurting you to do what you were doing, or I would’ve told you to stop.” Mazzara tried to smile.
    “I’ll continue once I deal with this headache. It’s just overuse of my abilities.” He drew out of Johnny’s system and rose, getting a bottle of ibuprofen from the medical supplies kept in the office. He took four of the two hundred milligram pills. He then went to the restroom and wetted down some paper towels. He placed one cool compress on Johnny’s brow, and the other he kept for himself, trying to ignore the miserable throb behind his eyes.
    “Julian.” Erik had returned and was standing in the doorway. He was pale and had a look of fear in his eyes. “You need to come with me.”
    “Erik, I can’t leave Johnny.”
    “For this, you can. You have to.” Erik’s voice shook a little as he spoke, the tone almost pleading.
    “Johnny, can you tolerate my being out of the room briefly? I need to see what Erik is concerned about.” He rested a hand on the Warden’s shoulder.
    “I’ll be fine until you come back. And you also have other patients to look in on. I’m not that bad off yet.”
    “I’ll be back as soon as I can.” He then followed Erik out of the office.
    Erik led Julian to the administrative break room. Within it was a large supply closet, used to hold items like paper towels for the bathrooms, napkins and coffee supplies. The door was open, and light was visible within. The light, which should have formed a rectangular shape on the floor of the otherwise-dark break room, was broken up by a bulky shadow. Frowning, Julian noted that Erik had stopped at the door to the break room. He stepped forward and looked inside the closet.
    Assistant Warden Patrick Browning hung there, eyes rolled back in his head, tongue protruding through clenched teeth. He had tied an extension cord around his neck and hanged himself from the light fixture in the closet. He had stripped off his shirt and written the word ‘POX’ across his chest, using a large magic marker. Julian was jolted backward to the day he found Perry in the bathroom of their room at Cimarron Haven. He made a choked sound of grief and horror. Recovering himself, he righted the chair that Browning had used to stand on before kicking it away. He stood upon it and supported the Assistant Warden’s body with his telekinesis as he worked the knotted extension cord free. He then lowered Browning to the floor and stepped down beside him.
    “Get me something to cover him, please,” he said to Erik.
    Erik, holding a curled hand to his lips, nodded. He left the break room and came back with a soiled sheet.
    “Sorry. All I could find close. I didn’t want to go too far. I wanted you to have some time to think about what to do.”
    “I will need to tell the staff. What the hell are we going to do?”
    “You.” Erik said. “What are you going to do? Face it, Red. You have been running this place since Marion Sprague brought in the disease like the rat she was.”
    “I’m going to get him to the morgue tent, and then I am going to talk to Johnny and ask him what he wants done.”
    “I’ll help you,” Erik said. He took a position at Browning’s head, ready to help lift him as soon as Julian had him wrapped in the sheet.
    “The morgue tent is getting really bad. Are you sure? I can lift him with—”
    “No, not really. But you’re pale as shit and if you keep pushing the powers, you might fuck yourself up bad. You can’t keep on like you are, and if we lose you, we’re dead.”
    Julian closed his eyes and nodded. Erik was correct. He allowed the large man to help him lift Browning and carry him to the horror of the morgue tent. Even late at night, the drone of millions of flies was almost deafening, and the stench was like a physical force that strained to keep one at bay. Julian laid the body down on one of the many neat stacks. He took a toe tag and a wax pencil from his scrub pocket and wrote Browning’s name and position upon it. The location of the body was noted in a small notebook he carried for the purpose. They then left the morgue tent.
    Not wanting Johnny to smell death clinging to his clothes, skin and hair, Julian stopped at the dorm to take a quick shower and change clothes. He then went back to the admin wing, making his way to the Warden’s office. He settled beside Johnny, who was in a fitful doze. Johnny opened his eyes and stared at Julian without speaking, at first seeming disoriented. At last, he spoke.
    “What was that about?”
    “Johnny, I have some bad news. Browning came down with smallpox. Rather than come to me for treatment, he chose to end his own life.”
    “No. Please, no,” Johnny began to weep in agonizing, wracking sobs.
    “I’m very sorry. I hate to do this, but I need to ask you to make some decisions. We need an acting Assistant Warden.”
    “You mean someone that can take over for me when I die, right?”
    “If, Johnny. If you die. I need you to try to stay positive. It actually improves your chances of beating this. But yes, we do need to be sure there is some kind of continuity of chain of command for the staff. I have two suggestions, if you are willing to hear them.”
    “I want to give it to you. But I can’t.” Johnny closed his eyes and tears slid from beneath the lids.
    “No… no, you can’t. But Lieutenant Thorne or Sergeant Fairfield are good choices. Both are respected by staff and inmates alike.”
    “Josh Thorne. And put Kit Fairfield in behind him. Make it clear that no one takes the infirmary away from you until the quarantine lifts. You’ve kept this place from just turning into a slaughterhouse, Julian.”
    “That brings me to another point. When I came in and found you sick, I had initially come in with something I needed to tell you. And I hope you can forgive me. We’re running out of both meds and consumables. The condition of the most severe cases of blackpox is also very demoralizing to those still living. I am also seeing a lot of secondary infections. Johnny… I have been euthanizing the terminal cases.” He was surprised to see Johnny slowly nod.
    “I knew it would have to come to that. And I know you by now. You’re being kind in doing it. ButI don’t want you to do the same for me. I’m fucking chickenshit, Julian. What I see when I go through the infirmary or into the morgue tent makes me want to run out of here screaming. But no good Catholic commits suicide.”
    “You are no coward.” Julian smoothed Johnny’s hair back. The ibuprofen had taken the edges off the headache, so he picked up the Warden’s hand and began to muffle the pain once again. “You’ve stayed here for them. And they will remember that. You have to have hope that you will pull through this.” Julian felt a deep ache as he saw Johnny shake his head.
    They both knew the truth.

    Chapter Twenty-Nine:
    Saturday, August 4th, 2012
    “Julian. Julian, wake up.”
    Julian had drifted into a doze, seated in a chair beside Johnny’s gurney. A hand was on his shoulder, shaking him. He opened his eyes to see all of Call of Gjallarhorn as well as Caiaphas and Donlan. Joshua Thorne was the one seeking to awaken him. All the men had identical looks of fear in their eyes.
    “What is it?” Julian passed a hand over his face, trying to wipe the sleep from his eyes and clear his thoughts.
    “The lights’ve all gone. We’re on emergency power again,” Donlan said.
    Johnny had been brought to the dorm. Julian, exhausted, dragged himself to his feet and ran a set of vitals. He did so manually; he had no idea when he would be able to recharge the vitals unit that he had brought in when they moved Johnny into the dorm. Seeing that he was stable and asleep, Julian draped his stethoscope around his neck. He tucked the blood pressure cuff and brow thermometer into one of the shelves in his locker. He left the dorm, the others trailing after him.
    Julian entered the admin wing, stepping into Johnny’s office. He picked up the telephone and put the receiver to his ear. There was no sound, not even static or a dial tone. Alarm filled him with adrenalin and he slammed the telephone receiver down. “Do we have a ham radio? Anything like that?”
    “We have that solar-powered rig,” Thorne said. “C’mon. It’s in the control center in Medium. There was one in the admin wing, but the panels were ripped off in the hurricane, and they didn’t replace them before this damned disease hit.”
    Julian followed Thorne into the control center, ignoring the questioning stares of the other corrections officers present. No one challenged either Julian or Thorne; they were all aware that Julian was the best hope they had of surviving were they to become ill or injured. Thorne picked up the microphone to the radio.
    “This is Lieutenant Joshua Thorne, acting Assistant Warden at Cooper Point Federal Penitentiary. Seeking to reach the National Guard installment in Cooper Point. Do you copy?”
    “This is Lieutenant Richard Bellamy, Second Battalion, 232nd Division of the Arizona National Guard. What is your status?”
    “We’ve just lost power. Food and medical supplies are desperately low. I have over a thousand rotting bodies in tents on the prison campus and smallpox is still burning its way through this facility. Respectfully request contact with Captain Donegal. We need serious help here, Lieutenant.”
    “That’s a negative. We’re remaining in town to maintain—”
    “Do you understand that there are innocent people here as well as inmates, Lieutenant Bellamy? That there’s not going to be food or medical supplies sufficient to care for very sick people?” Thorne’s voice was cold and calm.
    “The prison isn’t our primary concern, Lieutenant Thorne.” There was a sneering undertone to the words that made Julian’s blood boil with anger.
    “If we have riots here with the attendant loss of life, it will be your concern. We have no power at this facility and only three days of backup power. That means that what little food we have will become unusable, and that we will have to manually lock and unlock cells. We need your help! I have less than a third of the staff this facility is supposed to utilize.”
    “The power is out in all of Arizona and most of New Mexico, parts of Colorado and Texas. The power grid crashed and no one is sure why. Sorry, Thorne, you’re on your own.”
    “I want to talk to Captain Donegal.” Thorne’s poise never faltered.
    “Not possible at this time.”
    Julian closed his eyes and lifted to the astral. He sought out the welter of revolting ecru light that was Lieutenant Bellamy’s mind. In one harsh, practiced stab, he destroyed every synapse in the man’s brain, felling him as surely as a bullet. There was a choked cry audible over the radio, and a clunk as the microphone was dropped. Julian then reached out to Captain Donegal, praying that her mind would be sturdy enough to withstand telepathic contact.

    Captain, this is Julian Würger. We are at a state of emergency here at the prison. The power being out means that we’re risking a complete meltdown of this place with an even greater loss of life than is being dealt to us by smallpox. Any resources in supplies and manpower that you can spare are desperately needed. I implore you to help us. Please get into contact via radio.
    There was no answer. He felt her mind waver, threads of vivid yellow pain appearing within her lilac glow. He winced in sympathy and could only pray that she had caught the message that had been sheathed within the terrible pain he had caused her.
    “Julian, come with me. Now.” Thorne grabbed Julian’s shoulder and shoved him roughly toward the door of the control room.
    Julian did not resist, though a growl rattled forth. He hastily suppressed it, crushing down his anger as Thorne brought him to an interview room. The CERT lieutenant shoved him into a chair, and leaned close. Julian felt a surge of bitter memory, recalling Pak Aatif doing the same thing the day he had broken Manuel Dominguez’s arm.
    “Listen to me. What you just did might have completely fucked us. No more psi attacks. Am I clear?”
    “How… how did you—”
    “Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law. Love is the Law, Love under Will,” Thorne said softly.
    Julian could only stare in shock. The words were a quote from the Book of the Law, one of the primary texts written by Aleister Crowley and revered as sacred by adherents of Thelema. It put many of Thorne’s actions into sharp perspective.
    “‘There is no law beyond ‘Do What Thou Wilt’. You’re a Thelemite. You’re Order of Horus,” he whispered.
    “Yes. And I’ve been watching you since you came here. Frater Meles—your friend John Parello Jr.—has been in contact with me ever since he moved from Chicago to Tucson. He knows me as Frater Hadrox. When you ended up here, he pleaded with me to watch over you. But I can’t do that if you are going to use your abilities to mow people down for getting into your way. Do you want to be a King and be loved? Or do you want to become a petty tyrant and be cast down? You’re powerful. You are the manifestation of the Æon of Set. But you are still a man.” He reached out and placed his fingers on Julian’s jaw, where the Taser had left its scar. “Remember this. And remember that bullet scar. Get too arrogant and someone will take you out.”
    “Did John show you the prophecy?” Julian was shaking with the force of Thorne’s revelation.
    “Of course he did. And I believe every word of it. But, to do the things you are meant to do, you need to keep yourself alive, Julian. I’m here to help you and protect you. Mazzara isn’t a brother, but he’s been doing what he could do for you as well. The reason you went to the hole before smallpox broke out was to keep you alive as much as due to Mazzara being shit-scared. Those men you killed did have friends, you know. I need your word that you’re not going to zap anyone else, save in the greatest extremity of need.”
    “You have my word. I did make contact with Captain Donegal and tell her that she needed to get in touch. I’m hoping the pain of the mental contact wasn’t such that it overwhelmed the message.”
    “And I’m hoping she won’t see it as some kind of an attack. We need these people, and we don’t need them to come in shooting. Understood?” Thorne offered Julian a hand, which he accepted. “Let’s go back in there. I think this is it. We’ve got to be ready for anything.”
    They walked back into the control center. Julian dragged one of the office chairs over and turned it so he could straddle it and rest his folded arms on its back. He inclined his cheek onto his arms and closed his eyes, exhaustion and near-despair weighing upon him.
    “Rough night?”
    He opened his eyes to look at the officer that spoke to him. He was a gawky young man with crew-cut black hair and a long nose that looked as though it had been broken at least twice. Julian remembered treating him, though could not recall his name. He craned his neck to see the guard’s badge, and he obliged by moving his arm and turning a little.
    “Mayfield, that’s right,” Julian said. “Ja, things go from bad to worse at breakneck speed lately. It’s all I can do to keep on top of it.”
    “When’s the last time you slept, Doc?”
    “More than a catnap? Not since the night before Variola.”
    “I’ll be back.” Mayfield left the control center. He came back with a mattress and a pillow from the central linen storage. He moved a few chairs aside and spread them on the floor. “Lie down and rest. We get any radio noise or anything else happens, I’ll wake you up. You have to take care of yourself or you can’t take care of us. You got me through the pox. Let me at least help you catch an hour or two of sleep.”
    Julian thought of protesting, but his fatigue won out. He kicked off his shoes and stretched out on the mattress. Almost before he had truly settled himself, sleep took him.

    Julian felt a light tap on the sole of his foot. Slowly ascending from the depths of sleep, he pushed to a sitting position, shaking his hair back from his eyes. Thorne held the radio microphone out to him. Julian noted that no other officers were inside the control center.
    “The Captain wants to talk to you,” he said.
    Julian rose, not bothering with his shoes. He accepted the microphone, blinking and trying to clear his head.
    “Würger,” he said.
    “I’m coming.” Donegal’s voice was shaking. “I’ll have twenty-three other soldiers with me, and we’ll have everything you need. This is it. It’s over. And I’d rather be in a place where we have a chance in fucking hell.”
    “What? What do you mean?” All of the fatigue Julian felt vanished. Captain Donegal was a seasoned officer. For her to be so frightened, something terrible had to have happened.
    “I can’t. I can’t tell you. Not yet. Wait for us.”
    “I will go out and wait for you.” He turned and left the control center, in such haste that he neglected to put on his shoes. Behind him, Julian could hear Thorne following.
    The two men ran to the gate. Julian closed his eyes and sent his awareness outward to find Donegal’s light. When he found her, he reeled at what he saw. Dozens of men lay either dead or dying. The Captain, in tears, was helping her men load crates and boxes of food and supplies. The school they had commandeered as a base was just as dark as the prison. No lights seemed to be on in the town of Cooper Point. Donegal’s uniform was streaked and splattered with blood, and she had what looked like a cut or a bullet graze on one temple. He could see her shouting at her troops and exhorting them to hurry.
    “Find out if there is anything similar to a bomb shelter in this prison. Now!” At his shout, Thorn ran back to the admin wing.
    Julian ran the last few steps to the gate, ignoring the shouts of the guard in the tower. Fortunately, the man was more inclined to ask questions than go directly for his rifle. Julian waved to him, but knew his voice would not carry intelligibly to the top of the tower. He extended a hand and focused, dropping his consciousness into the mechanical locking mechanism that controlled the gate. Normally, this was operated with the use of a switch in the guard tower. He found it very difficult to cycle the lock. The brisk wind chilled the sweat on his brow and back, and his hand closed into a fist. Finally, he felt the lock give way. Using his abilities, he rolled the gate to one side. He then heard steps running up beside him from the direction of the tower.
    “Look, Doc, I don’t know how the fuck—”
    “Listen.” Julian turned to the guard. “This is it. It’s over. The reason this gate is open is not for me to escape, but for the one good chance we have to make it in. Captain Donegal and what is left of her battalion are headed in from town with supplies. I just sent Lieutenant Thorne to find something out for me. Call him and ask. I swear sweet Goddess I am mot trying to fuck you over or lead some kind of mass escape.”
    Something in Julian’s tone and expression made the tower guard pause. Rather than reaching for his sidearm or Taser, he went for the radio. Julian listened to him hailing Thorne, but kept his eyes trained on the dark ribbon of road that wound across the graben to the town of Cooper Point.
    “Doc… I’m gonna leave. I can’t be here if—”
    “It’s too late,” Julian said, not turning. “If you try to make town now, you’ll be dead. There won’t be time to create adequate shelter.”
    “I don’t care about that. I’m not leaving my family to die alone.” The guard backed a few slow steps away, as if he expected Julian to run him down.
    “Do me a favor. Leave me your sidearm and the rifle from the tower. The more weapons we have, the more likely we are to make it. If you have ammo stored in the towers, bring that as well. May the Goddess bless you and your family.” He still didn’t turn to look. A few minutes later, he heard the clatter of a longarm being placed on the ground. A hand took his; at last, he faced the guard. The young man’s pale eyes—their color indistinct in the faint light of the waning gibbous moon—were wide and filled with tears. He curved Julian’s hand around the grip of the Glock 9mm.
    “I’m gonna pray my hardest for you, Doc. I know how hard you’ve worked for everyone here.”
    “And I will pray for you and your family, in my own way. Thank you.” As Julian turned to watch the road again, the officer ran past him, out the gate and toward the staff parking lot. A moment later, the headlights of a vehicle flared to life, followed by its engine. There was a screech of tires, and then a van pulled onto the road, speeding into darkness. Only when it had gone did Julian pick up the Ruger Mini-14 rifle. He slung it at his shoulder and continued to watch the road.
    “Coming up behind you, Julian.” Thorne approached him at a run. He shoved Julian’s shoes into his free hand. “You need these. Where’d the guns come from?”
    “Guard in the tower. He chose to leave, despite my warning him that things would go very badly if he did so. I need to keep the weapons.”
    “Not arguing that. But get your shoes on. As soon as they get here, I’m going to take you to where the Warden says we need to go. This is a trip—this prison has tunnels under it. Mazzara says it’s from back when this was an outpost against the Indians.”

    “Is das dein Ernst?” Julian turned his eyes from the road and stared at Thorne.
    “I’m guessing that was something like ‘Really?’. Yes, really. Stand fast and wait. I’m going to go get your boys and send ‘em out. That way, we can help those soldiers move all the shit into the tunnels a little faster.”
    Minutes later, Caiaphas and Donlan came out with the Kindred. Julian passed the rifle off to Donlan who took it with an eager grin and a tapetum flash from eyes as pale as the moon above them. Fifteen minutes later, five of the HMMWVs the battalion had used before could be seen in the distance, driving hell-for-leather toward the gates. All of them were towing large trailers. As they came close, Julian could see that all of them had bullet holes in the bodies, and one had a shattered windshield. Julian moved his group out of the way, and the trucks pulled in.
    Immediately, Captain Donegal staggered out of the driver’s seat of the lead truck. Blood soaked one leg of her fatigues and she tottered over to Julian, gasping with pain, tears reflecting the light from the vehicles. Julian caught her and lowered her to the ground at once.
    “What happened? How are you injured?” He turned her chin to look at the wound to her temple, which was exactly what he had suspected it was—a bullet graze. The injury to her leg was superficial. It looked as though she had fallen and cut herself in the process.
    “Shot at, didn’t get more than this.” She indicated the graze wound. “Bellamy went down. Couple of his butt-buddies flipped out… started fucking shooting.” She gave up the fight against the tears. “I put ‘em down. Told the rest we were coming up here. We’ve got two hours at best. Lassiter’s lost his fucking shit and so have the Joint Chiefs. They’re gonna do it. China made a move into the South China Sea and Taiwan. We’re already overcommitted in the Persian Gulf. Guess they think smallpox has us down for the count. That and the outbreak means a big fat turd’s getting dropped on Pyongyang.”
    “You heard her. Let’s move, people! Thorne, show them where to go. I have some things I need to get. Caiaphas, help the Captain to shelter and get any and all medical gear from the dorm. Donlan, get my ritual gear and any food that’s in there. All of you,” he said, indicating Call of Gjallarhorn, “Come with me. We have an armory to empty.” Julian sped off at a dead run, the Kindred just behind him.
    Julian ran into Maximum, to the block and tier where his cell once was. He took the steps three at a time and stopped across from where he had sent the keys on the night of the storm. He flung a hand out and the keys, still on the strip of silk from Browning’s tie, flew to his grasp. Julian knew the prison layout quite well from having to move through the campus in treating his patients. The others followed him as he made his way to the main armory.
    Although he would eventually have been able to force the lock to open at his bidding, the keys were faster. The lock was both heavy and complex. Julian loaded all the men down with as many weapons as they could carry, as well as ammunition. He then cast about and located Thorne.
    “Take this stuff down to Thorne. He’s in the Admin building. There are tunnels under this prison. That’s where we’re going to be taking shelter. Keep moving until this armory is empty. I don’t want a single weapon or round left in here. Once that’s done, have the soldiers pull the HMMWVs into the motor pool and yank all of the fuses and solenoids. We don’t want them seen from the road, and it’s a Quonset hut with a metal roof—it might act like a Faraday cage and protect the rest of the wiring. There’s something I need to do in the meantime. Ethan, I need you to be ready to feel some pain, because I’m not going to use a radio for part of what’s next.”
    “Fine with that, Doc.” The Goði’s eyes were wide. “When the time comes, let it rip.”
    “Good man. Now move!” Julian turned and pelted down the tier, ignoring the shouts and questions of the few men still within their cells. He sprinted to Medium Security and over to the control center. Fairfield was inside and immediately let him in.
    “What’s going on?” she asked. Alarm made her eyes dart wildly.
    “This is it. Within two hours, Captain Donegal from the National Guard says we can expect the President to do something incredibly stupid.”
    “Oh, sweet Jesus. The prophecy!”
    “Exactly.” He looked at the other two guards present in the command center. “There is an Army captain here on the campus. She just came in, and it cost her a fuck of a lot. What we’re talking about… there is going to be a nuclear attack. President Lassiter has decided to counter-attack North Korea in the worst of possible ways, and China with them—they’ve made a move on Taiwan.”
    “And that’s it for me,” one of the men said. “I’m going home. My wife and I have a shelter. Just hope it’s enough.”
    “I won’t try to convince you to stay if that is your choice, but things are going to be really bad after this,” Julian said.
    “Can’t live with her and can’t live without her, Doc J. Peace out.” The man let himself out of the command center, and the other guard followed.
    “So what do we do?” Fairfield asked.
    “We get everyone under cover. And then we let the inmates go. We open every cell while we have the chance. I will make the announcement as to why. There aren’t very many healthy inmates left at this point, and most of those that are able will want to run. Of those that remain, some will undoubtedly pose an issue. We’ll know pretty quickly who they are. And I will handle them accordingly.”
    “I’m staying. I’m staying right here to help you.” Fairfield lifted a violently-trembling hand to her eyes to brush away tears.

    “Sehr gut. I’ll need you. I’ll need as many good people as I can get.”
    Julian waited, ignoring the terrible pain behind his eyes as he watched over the movement of the supplies within the trucks into the tunnels beneath the penitentiary. As soon as he saw that his orders had been carried out and the vehicles moved and prepared, he reached out to Ethan.
    Arm some men, he sent. Five should be enough, considering they’re soldiers. Be ready for action. I am about to announce what’s happening and release what remains of the inmates here.
    You weren’t kidding, came the response. This shit is really painful. I’m on it.

    Julian drew a long breath and moved to the prisonwide announcing system. He picked up its microphone and switched it on.
    “Attention within Cooper Point Federal Penitentiary,” he said. “This is Julian Andreas Würger, formerly United States Navy, SEAL Team Two. Most of you know me as ‘Doc’, the man who looked after many of you as the outbreak of smallpox unfolded. Tonight, I have come by some very terrible news. President Lassiter intends to retaliate against the Kim regime of the Democratic Peoples’ Republic of Korea. This is absolutely certain to result in an immediate reprisal of some kind, most likely by either China, Russia or both. Even if this were not the case, the United States as we know it will be no more. The power grid is failing. There are probably many scores if not hundreds of thousands of people dead. The world economy is never going to be able to recover. Smallpox has, by now, circled the globe.
    “I am now in control of this prison, and faced with hard choices. I have decided that I cannot—will not—leave you locked in your cells to die of dehydration, disease or starvation. In five minutes, I am going to cycle open all the cell doors, whether they be located in Administrative Segregation, Protective Custody, Death Row, Maximum or Medium Security. There are now less than seventy minutes before the order to launch is given. It is unknown what or how extensive the counterstrike will be.
    “I will be retaining control of Cooper Point until fallout levels are low enough to safely leave. Any who remain here will, by default, be under my command. Resistance to this will prove to be a fatal proposition. Use the following five minutes before the locks cycle very intelligently. Choose your path wisely. May the Divine, however you understand it, shelter you all.”
    Before he had finished speaking, the prison erupted in shouts and other noise. Men began screaming and reacting with violence and fear. Julian turned his eyes to the clock on the wall and began to watch it closely.
    “At the one-minute mark,” he said, “we will need to take cover as far from these windows as we can. They will eventually find some way to shatter even this safety glass.”
    “There’s a way,” Fairfield said. “We have a bolt-hole under the floor, kind of a shelter of last resort in case things really go to shit and we have to lay low throughout a riot.”
    “Get it ready. I want to be down there before we are so much as seen. I will contact the others and let them know.”
    At 2:17 AM local time, the clock wound down. Julian cycled every cell open and then disappeared into the chamber beneath the tiles in the floor with Fairfield. He contacted Ethan to let him know what was happening. Afterwards, he reached out to Tristan, informing the Pride and warning them to take cover as well.
    For long minutes, there was a bedlam of screaming and chaos. The small space shook with the thunder of hundreds of running feet. Surprisingly, it sounded as though there was little violence. Julian rose to the astral to monitor what was occurring, and saw a large group of men running for the gate, caring nothing about men they would have fought to kill only hours before. He waited until all that intended and were able to leave had gone, and then he began the second and sadder part of his work.
    One by one, he began to shut down the brainstems of the terminal smallpox cases. He was unaware that he was weeping until he had ended the life of the last one. Fairfield had reached out to him and was gently rubbing the back of his hand, seeking to give him some comfort. He tried to smile, but between the pain, the fear and the sorrow, he was unable to do so. One patient, however, he would not euthanize from a distance.
    When, silence reigned at last, Julian cast about to be sure no minds waited in ambush. Here and there, there were still people present. Perhaps twenty men remained, hanging about their cells, frightened and confused. These inmates had nowhere to go, and were highly institutionalized. Julian knew they needed guidance. He slipped from the hidden chamber and again picked up the microphone.
    “This is Julian Würger. If you have remained within this facility, I will guide you to safety and your highest chance of survival. Meet me in the courtyard of the administrative building, beside the flagpole, in five minutes. Be advised that I am not alone, and that we are armed. I want to assist you, but any act of aggression against me or any of my other followers will be met with immediate lethal force. However, my intentions are not to fight you, but protect you and keep you alive. In this time of difficulty, I ask that differences and old feuds be laid to rest. I look forward to meeting you all.”
    Julian then exited the control room, the Glock in his hand. Scanning outward, he sensed only a few men, all of whom were making their way to the courtyard he had indicated in his message. Moving with quick care, he left Medium Security and went into the building that housed the kitchens. As he walked across, he and Fairfield were joined by five inmates. One of them was the young man he had attempted to reach the day he fought Sawblade.
    “I want to stay,” he said. “I don’t got no people on the outside. You took good care of me when I got sick.”
    “And I’ll take care of you now, all of you.” Julian smiled and gave the terrified man’s shoulder a pat. “In fact, it’s good that the group of you are here. We’re going to hit the kitchen and get as much food out as we can. Non-perishable things, primarily, though we might be able to use some of the lunchmeat and fruit. We’re going to need to lay low for twenty-one days.”
    “I thought it was two weeks,” said one of the men. He was a tall Latino with a black braid and one eye hidden by an eye patch. His skin bore the pockmarks that indicated he was also a smallpox survivor.
    “The literature does carry conflicting information. Obviously, longer is safer. There are some other reasons I want to wait a bit. I’ll get into them when we’re done loading supplies. Our next stop will be the infirmary.” He looked around do the seven inmates that had approached him. “I need to know that I can trust you not to pilfer any of the medications I am going to collect. Lives are going to depend upon them.” There were murmurs of assent all around.
    They entered the kitchens, and were able to locate several of the large carts used to move meals between cell blocks. They loaded them down with as much food as they would hold. Julian was elated when he found a propane stove and several tanks of fuel. Those went onto the carts as well as a spark lighter he found with the stove. Julian sent Fairfield with four of the men to the Admin building with the carts, bringing the two men he had spoken to and one other with him to the infirmary. He pretended to use one of the keys to open the heavy lock, as he had done when he opened the soda machine during Hurricane Roslyn.
    “Damn, Doc. They trust you with the whole fuckin’ prison?” asked the man with the eye patch.
    “I got these keys under less than honorable means. It doesn’t matter now. Help me load this stuff up.”
    They took every medication they could find, and also as much apparatus as the carts they had brought would carry. Julian also obtained clean linens and piled them onto one of the gurneys with other supplies. As he did so, he became aware of a slow surge from his spirit sense, a sort of dawning urgency.
    “We’re running out of time,” he said. “Let’s go!”
    The group of them made their way back to the admin wing, moving as quickly as the carts and gurney would allow. Thorne was waiting for them at the doors, and he brought them in quickly. The entrance to the tunnels was set in the floor of the admin kitchen. There were soldiers already lined along the narrow stairway, ready to pass the supplies down. The working party was swift in moving everything down. With some difficulty, they were even able to move the gurney down.
    “Looks like someone had the same idea you do, way back in the eighties,” Fairfield said. “Take a look at this.”
    Julian followed her down the stone stairs, which descended some twenty feet below. There was a foyer, and a heavy door stood open, held by one of the crates of supplies. Another room was beyond the door, its construction old, but not as old as the steps. Inside it was a large tank, attached to which was a shower head. There was a drain set in the floor. Julian noted that the floor was wet, the water reflecting luridly in the green glow of chemlights that had been hung here.
    “I flushed this tank out while we had the time and the water pressure to do it. We might need to use it for exactly what it was built to do—decontaminate people coming in from above. Looks like Mazzara made an effort to keep this place operational.”
    “How is he?” Julian asked quietly. Mazzara was the only terminal patient he had not euthanized.
    “Not good. Bee’s taking care of him, but he keeps asking for you.”
    “I’ll go and see him as soon as we’re done here. Lead the way.”
    Fairfield secured the doors leading to the stairs and foyer, using a heavy key similar to the masters Julian carried. She offered it to him, and he accepted it, attaching it to the ring he carried. He led the way from the decontamination area into the rest of the shelter. The tunnels had been modernized somewhat. They were standing in a sort of dayroom, with three long tables placed end to end. An old VCR and television stood silent and dusty on a shelf in one corner. Fairfield led Julian into another section of tunnel that branched off from the first. This was little more than an alcove, and a desk and chair had been moved out of it. They stood in the hallway, the chair upside down and placed on top of the desk.
    Johnny was lying on the gurney, Bee at his side. His face was greyish with pain, and a black patch surrounded one of his eyes, spilling down his cheek and darkening his lips, which were hideously swollen. Julian came to sit at his side, picking up one of the Warden’s hands in his own.
    “I’m here, Johnny.” He blinked back tears.
    “I know you aren’t a Christian. But please… pray with me. Say the Our Father for me.”
    “Of course.” Julian’s love and respect for Johnny overrode any disaffinity he had for Christian prayer. “Our Father, Who art in Heaven, hallowed be Thy name; Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in Heaven. Give us this day our daily bread; and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us; and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. Amen.” He heard Thorne and Bee, murmur ‘amen’ as well. “I will say this for you as often as you need. I don’t know the Hail Mary, though.”
    “Hail Mary full of Grace,” Johnny said. The name of the Virgin came out in a sob. “The Lord is with thee. Blessed are thou among women and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus. Holy Mary Mother of God, pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death. Amen.” By the time he had finished, Julian had lost control of the tears.
    “As many times as you need her, I will call her for you. I will pray without ceasing, if it will give you comfort. You did all you could for me, Johnny. You’ve been a friend, one of my Pride, even though I never clearly stated as much. And the instant you need it, I will send you to your kind Jesus. You have taught me lessons about honor and compassion, and I will never forget them.”
    “I want to live,” Johnny whispered. “I want to see it through to the end. No Catholic commits suicide.”
    “Then I will make you as comfortable as I can, whether with meds or with prayer.” He smoothed the dying man’s hair back gently. Behind him, he could hear Bee repressing bitter sobs.
    “Can you help me sleep?” Johnny whispered.
    “Of course. Do you think you can swallow?”
    “Yeah. Got any Scotch to wash ‘em down?” He gave a weak laugh.
    “I’m afraid not. But we did take some juice from the kitchen.” He turned to Fairfield. “Kit, would you be so kind as to get a glass of apple juice for him? It was on one of the first carts to come down.”
    “Absolutely,” she said. She departed for the other room.
    “I’ll be right back.” Julian followed Thorne and went to the medical supplies. He selected some oxymorphone and some diazepam. Kit handed him a plastic tumbler filled with juice, and Julian returned to Johnny’s bedside.
    “This is Opana. It’s the strongest thing I have. With it is a little Valium to tone down the anxiety you’re feeling. And they will indeed make you very sleepy. Dream, Johnny. I will pray for you.”
    “Take care of you, as well, Julian. Your eyes are almost as red as mine.”
    “I promise I will sleep as soon as I get everyone settled.” He assisted Johnny in taking the medication, remaining beside him and praying both the Hail Mary and the Our Father until the Warden slid into the depths of narcotic sleep.
    He stepped into the long room with the tables and looked around. The long room was lighted with chemlights and crank-powered emergency lanterns. Hearing voices in a passageway off the main one, he walked over. Bee was treating Donegal’s injuries. The captain seemed despondent, constantly wiping her eyes with a balled-up tissue. Julian came up behind her and rested a hand on her shoulder.
    “There you are.” She gave him a watery smile.
    “Tell me what happened.” There was an old office chair in front of the table where the television stood, its vinyl brittle and peeling. He dragged it over and sat in it.
    “I have some friends in interesting places. One of them went career and is posted at NORAD. She called me and let me know that shit was getting real and I needed to get to cover.” She wiped her eyes again. “She probably got in trouble for doing it, but I’m really grateful.”
    “As am I. My abilities would only have given me a few minutes of lead time, not two hours.”
    “Will you know? I mean… will you know when it actually happens?”
    “I’m positive I will. I’ll be able to astral walk and see how bad, and also make contact with the people I have in Tucson.”
    “If they survive.”
    “Yes. If they survive. I think they will. They have a shelter even deeper than these tunnels,” Julian said.
    “How did things turn violent?” Kit asked.
    “Bellamy went down, and then I said I wanted to come here,” Donegal answered, sighing bitterly. “It’s the safest place I could think of. The town’ll be right in the way of the fallout if San Diego gets hit as bad as I suspect it will. This place will, too, but there are much thicker walls even up above. With this being a prison, I thought it’d have at least some measure of safety.”
    “And it does, indeed. All of the things that have happened have led me to this moment. As soon as Bee finishes patching you up, I’ll show you what I mean.” Julian made to rise, but Donegal stopped him.
    “Stay,” she said. “Stay with me.” She reached out and brushed a lock of hair back from Julian’s eyes. “And you still blush terribly.”
    “I’m not used to being touched.” He lifted his hands to his cheeks, feeling the heat there.
    “Can you two save that for when I don’t have to listen to it?” Bee’s tone was irritable.
    “Of course. I’m sorry.” Inwardly, Julian was somewhat annoyed by Bee’s interjection, but he could not afford to alienate her.
    Bee finished treating Captain Donegal’s wounds. Julian rose from the office chair and nodded for Donegal to follow him.
    “I want to take a look around. Have you any more chemlights?”
    “Shit ton of them, but we still should be careful of going through ‘em too quickly. I have a spare crank-powered flashlight that might be a little better.”

    “Wunderbar. We’ll need it.”
    “Say that again.” She grinned.
    “Say what?” He felt bewildered.
    “I don’t sound like that!” He couldn’t help but laugh.

    “Nein, you sount like dis.” She gave his shoulder a shove.
    “Ach. Come on, let’s find your flashlight and do this.” He felt his cheeks flaming again.

    He was happy to see that the flashlight also contained an emergency radio. He cranked it and then powered it on. Looking around, he picked up a piece of plaster that had fallen from a wall. He used it to draw a white line on one of the tables and nodded.
    “We’ll use this to draw arrows to use to find our way back,” he said. “There’s really no way to know how far back this is all going to go or how safe it is.”
    “And we should map it, too.” Donegal pulled a pad and pen from a pocket of her uniform.
    They set out, Julian marking the passageway every few yards. The dayroom ended in a T-shaped intersection. They chose the right side, carefully marking the turn-off. There were four other passageways that branched off from that one. To Julian’s surprise, each of these had been converted into a dorm. In the dorms, there were twelve narrow cots and what looked like a composting privy. They marked the location, looking forward to giving the good news to the others.
    Along the left passageway, there were two communal showers. Julian used the makeshift chalk to mark them as male and female, and then continued on. At the end of the passageway, there were two private bedrooms directly opposite from one another.
    “I’m going to suggest that you take one of these. No one’s going to question your leadership, least of all me. You don’t need everyone up under your ass every second.”
    “You should take the other one, then. And I feel strange about taking on any appearance of privilege.” He put the plaster into his pocket and cranked the flashlight, as much for something to do with his hands as anything else.
    “That’s how rank works, sailor. You know that. You’re now the skipper. Which makes me Gilligan.” She grinned, her blue eyes sparkling.
    “Unfortunately, I don’t have a dog-bowl cover for you to turn inside out.” He returned the smile. “Let’s keep going.”
    At the end of the dormitory wing, they found another door. This one rolled upward, but was locked. Julian used his telekinesis to cycle the lock and pulled the door upward. Behind it was a small industrial kitchen. There was a strange contraption that looked like an exercise bicycle. Further examination revealed that it was intended to turn a large ventilation fan. Julian found himself pleased at the ingenuity.
    “We can set up a schedule for people to take shifts to keep the ventilation going. Since we have forty-three people, we don’t need to schedule long or repetitive shifts.” He looked over the shelves, noting that they held both cooking equipment and old food stores. “And we need to get rid of all of this, because I don’t want anyone to eat it by mistake.”
    “Will the propane be safe in here?” Donegal asked.
    “Let me look at this flue to be sure. I suspect it has a filter and baffles, but it may be blocked. One can never be too safe.” He closed his eyes and allowed his consciousness to trail upward, tracing out the ventilation line. “It’ll be fine. We have to have someone powering the fan rather strongly while we cook, but it’s similar to the vent pipes in the shelters in the two houses I own. The pipe has a downward bend at the outside end, and it’s baffled all through.”
    “I’m never going to get used to your ‘woo’.”
    “Yes, you are. Everyone else has.”
    “Are we keeping this kitchen locked?” she asked, poking around.
    “We’ll need to. We have plenty of food, but disaster does strange things to people. We don’t want anyone stealing or hoarding. The meds can go in here as well. I’m going to scan out to see if there are spaces other than the ones we’ve seen.”
    Julian closed his eyes and folded his hands, extending his consciousness outward like ripples in a pond. He detected a space behind the wall on the opposite side of the dayroom door. He entered it, and felt dismay. There was a row of ten cells there, five to a side. One of the cells still held an occupant. The body had been mummified by the dry conditions inside the tunnels. From what was left of the clothing, it looked to be modern.
    “We’ve got a problem; two of them, in fact. There is another space behind the passageway wall, directly across from the dayroom. Not only are there cells there, there is a body in one of them. From the mummification, it looks like it’s been there for at least fifteen years, possibly more.”
    “So we leave it hidden. Your guys probably don’t need to know there are cells in there.”
    “I agree,” Julian said. “Hopefully, we won’t actually need it for any reason. I’d like to move the body, but there’s no way to do that without revealing the cells.”
    “There’s something I want to do before we go back.” Donegal reached out a hand and splayed it upon Julian’s chest. She pushed him against the wall beside one of the baker’s racks and twined her other hand in his hair. Tilting her head up, she kissed him soundly.

    Explicit! No Babbys! (open)

    He was too shocked to respond at first. But then the animal hunger he felt for this woman surged forth, causing him to flush once more and making his hands tremble. He slid his arms around her, feeling the strength beneath the uniform she wore, and returned her passion with his own. He walked forward, pushing her, and then reached out, sweeping the pots and pans off a prep table with a surge from his telekinesis. He was dimly aware of buttons flying in all directions as she tore at his clothes. He caught her wrists in one hand, pinning them, though it was a struggle to do so.
    “You’d better be really, really certain I’m what you want, Brielle. Because I don’t let go once I take hold, and I will ruin you for any other man,” he growled.
    “I was kind of hoping you would. Shut up and fuck me.”
    More buttons flew as he used his free hand to tear off her fatigue blouse. He bit at her neck, and when he had the fatigues and the T-shirt beneath them torn away, he yanked down her bra and devoured her breasts with kisses and light bites. Needing both hands free to manage her belt and trousers, he used his telekinesis to pin her to the table, laughing as she gasped with shock. The taste and scent of her was heady feminine sweat and desire. He tugged her trousers and panties down and found her to be slick and molten for him, gushing like a split fruit.
    He could no longer contain himself. Grabbing her ankles, he pushed them apart widely enough that she gasped with pain. He shoved his prison-issue pants over his hips and surged forward, hilting himself within her in one violent thrust. Brielle screamed, from pain as much as pleasure. She struggled against the invisible bonds he had placed upon her. Julian could now smell her fear, and it was intoxicating.
    He put her ankles over his shoulders and leaned over her, taking over the grip on her wrists with his hands. He did not want the distraction of maintaining his concentration. The hot, tight feel of her clasping his cock propelled him into a primal space he had not enjoyed since the last time he coupled with Delia. There was no subtlety in what he did to her.
    And Brielle seemed to want it just that way.
    She arched up to meet him, the fear seeming to turn into a brutal, sensual thrill within her. Her hot cleft grasped at him, both her mind and body declaring the first of what would be many violent climaxes as he savaged her. He was aware that he was snarling, and that Brielle was screaming, and he did not care who followed the sound and happened upon them. All that mattered was this single moment and the pleasure they both felt.
    Thirteen years had elapsed since he had enjoyed the taste and feel of a woman. He bit down hard on the inside of his cheek, blood flooding into his mouth; he wanted to use the pain to keep himself from going off too soon. He kissed her, rouging her lips with his essence, redoubling his efforts to fuck her to within an inch of her life. She gasped at the taste of blood and pulled at his hands, trying to free herself. He did not allow it.
    Despite the bite, it was completely impossible for him to have much staying power, due to fatigue and a dry spell that had lasted over a decade. He roared, flooding her with his heat, and then sagged to rest his head upon her shoulder. Much as Delia had done so long ago, Brielle wept, shuddering and overwhelmed.

    “Es tut mir leid,” he gasped. “Out of practice.”
    “I’m out of practice too,” Brielle said, managing a weak chuckle. “Most guys don’t like female weightlifters, you know.”
    “Most men are complete idiots. I prefer strong women. My first—in fact, the only woman I’ve ever been with—was anything but, and I’ve since learned what I prefer.”
    “What? You’ve only ever had one girl?” She looked perplexed.
    “I’m not the sort to… well, do what we just did, usually.”
    “I thought SEALS were pussy magnets.”
    “I’m not the average SEAL.”
    “Guess not.” She freed one wrist and slugged him in the shoulder. “Leggo. I’m getting bodily fluids all over this nice table. No one wants my ass juice in their food.”
    Julian laughed, and leaned down to kiss her. He slipped from her body and was just tucking himself back into his trousers when Donlan appeared in the doorway. The Irishman immediately hooted with laughter, pointing at the two of them.
    “Shit! Don’t you know how to knock?” Brielle made haste to cover herself.
    “Door was open, wasn’t it?” He broke into laughter again. “I told ‘em the screams sounded more like sex than murder!”
    “Donlan. I love you, my brother. But get the fuck out and let Brielle get dressed.”
    “I’ll let ‘em know you won’t be as uptight anymore.” He laughed and ducked out of the kitchen as Julian made a move as though he would chase him.
    The light in the hand-crank flashlight had dimmed. Julian picked it up from where it had fallen onto the floor in their passion and cranked it. As soon as he had done so, he felt a profound chill. He reeled against the prep table, gasping, and then switched the attached radio on. At once, the dry, emotionless electronic voice filled the kitchen. They both listened, frozen to the spot.


    The message repeated itself twice more, and then the digital SAME—Specific Area Message Encoding—header for the Emergency Alert System sounded. The electronic voice announced President Charles Lassiter.
    “Citizens of the United States,” the President intoned, “On a profound level, we have always feared the coming of this day, and this terrible series of circumstances. We have survived many threats and challenges. However, our greatest fear, individually and as a nation, is being realized right now. Nuclear missiles have been launched and are currently on a trajectory toward multiple major cities of the United States. We do not know at this time who will be affected, but there are certain to be millions of casualties and catastrophic loss of life. However, even in the greatest extreme of crisis, the people of this nation are strong, and we should not immerse ourselves into fear and despair. By taking some precautions, we can persevere and emerge in victory, stronger than ever before. In order to achieve this, we need to prepare for what is to come. It is imperative that you do the following: locate an underground shelter and protect yourself and your family. Cover your head and brace for potential impact. Once the fireball and shock wave have passed, remain in your shelter until an all-clear signal is given. Keep your battery-powered radio tuned to stations that broadcast news and information to your local area. Follow the instructions and guidelines given by representatives of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, or FEMA. Stay off the phones. Telephone lines need to be kept open for emergency use only. If you make an unnecessary phone call, you will place others at risk, and we cannot be sure that 911 will remain stable. Most importantly, remain calm. Help your fellow Americans, because this is the only way this nation will survive the trials of the coming weeks and months. We may find ourselves reeling from this attack, but America shall not fall. We shall not be broken, and we shall rally our strength to become great again. May God bless and protect you all.”


    “We need to go back to the others,” Julian said. He struggled to still his shaking.
    “Let’s go,” Brielle said. She drew him close for a moment, brushing a kiss to his lips.
    They found their way back to the dayroom. Julian called everyone together. He allowed his gaze to play over the faces of the dozens of people present, and then he turned the radio on again. There were gasps and tears, but other than that, the only voices that reigned were those of the President and the automated voice. Julian allowed the message to play three times, and then switched the radio off.
    “I don’t want… I can’t do it,” Callum whispered. “Kill me. Send me on, Julian. I can’t handle this.”
    “Callum, I’m not willing to do that,” Julian said. “I need every one of you. We all will need to depend on one another for survival. It would be one thing if you had a terminal case of blackpox. I would be doing it to save you pain, the way I have had to do for so many others. But you are an able-bodied man, and I don’t have the luxury of sacrificing anyone.”
    “Honestly, I’ve had about all of this shit I can take.” Ethan rose, walking over to Callum. “I’ll open the door for you. You want to die? We don’t need you. But you’re not making Julian into your suicide weapon. You want to go, there are lots of ways and places you can off yourself. But you’re not going to fuck up morale down here and you’re not going to stress everyone out any worse than we already are.”
    Something in Callum’s psyche shattered. Julian saw his heliotrope glow turn friable. Callum let out a sound that was between a sob and a scream, and launched himself at Julian, hands crooked like claws. Julian shot a hand out, and Callum lifted from the floor. He began to scream in earnest, then, utterly terrified. All around them, there were cries of shock and fear.
    “I don’t think you understand,” Julian said softly. “With the message we just heard, absolutely everything changed. One thing that has changed is the concept of law. I am now that law. You knew what was coming. You heard the prophecy the same way the rest of your Kindred did. And now you’ve just threatened the survival of everyone here by attempting to attack me. So, Callum, you are going to get your wish. This will not stand.” He reached into Callum’s brainstem, quickly stopping the man’s heart and respiration. Callum shuddered and soiled himself, and then went utterly limp and still. Julian was aware of the terrified weeping of two of the soldiers, one male and one female.
    “I’ll take him outside,” Ethan said softly. He was pale, his hands shaking.
    “It’s better that I do it. I will treat him with respect. I am very sorry about this,” Julian said.
    “Is that the way shit gets done around here?” asked one of the soldiers. He was a man slightly older than Julian, with jug ears and an overbite. “Just because this guy has weird powers, you’re all going to just follow along and do whatever he says?”
    “He knew all this shite was gonna happen,” Donlan said, his pale eyes glinting with a tapetum flash. “He chose ‘suicide by metanormal’. None of you would be alive, if not for Julian. You’d be out there in the dark, seein’ the glow as Phoenix, Tucson or both went up.”
    “It’s going to take a hardass to keep people alive in what’s going to be left of the world,” Thorne said. “C’mon, Julian. Let’s take this poor bastard outside.”
    Julian kept Callum’s body suspended as Thorne opened the doors. He carried him up the steps and through the admin building in the same manner, and laid him down behind one of the planters. Julian knew they would eventually depart the shelter, and he did not want the corpse to be the first thing the group saw as they emerged.
    “Julian, do I have to worry?” Thorne asked.
    “Worry? Ich kann Sie nicht verstehen.”
    “Do I have to worry that this is going to be the way you deal with any kind of dissent?”
    “Not at all. Callum has had increasing issues ever since I read the prophecy to everyone in the dorm. I had hoped not to have something like this happen.”
    “Let’s go back down. I think you’d better read it to all of them. It’s just become as important as the Book of the Law.”
    “Thank you, Joshua.” Julian saw no reason to remain formal. “Good advice, and I’m listening. If you have a copy of the Book of the Law, I think that should follow. We already use some of the Eddas and Sagas, read or recited by Ethan.”
    They went back into the building and reentered the shelter. As they came down the steps, they could hear the radio once more. The message was the same, including the short speech made by President Lassiter. Julian settled himself at the end of the table furthest from the door leading to the steps. His eyes felt hot and grainy, and he was getting a headache. He lifted a hand and called a package of ibuprofen over, as well as a bottle of water. He took the pain reliever and massaged his temples.
    “You all right, then, Julian?” Donlan asked. He settled at Julian’s left.
    “Mostly. I think it’s just fatigue.”
    “That what you call it?” Donlan grinned and made a show of cutting his eyes toward Brielle, waggling his eyebrows.
    “Not now, Kumpel.”
    Brielle rose from where she was sitting and walked behind Julian. She kneaded his neck and his shoulders. He closed his eyes and tried to relax under her ministrations, feeling shaky and disoriented.
    “You should rest, Julian,” she said softly.
    “I will… afterwards. I’ll read the prophecy for everyone, and then I’m going to bed.” He turned his head to smile at her, placing a hand over hers. “I’ll be fine. Hell Week was a lot less sleep.”
    “You’d better be. Because I’ll beat your ass if you’re not.” She dipped down and kissed his temple.
    “I want to see it,” Erik said softly. “We’re in the middle of nowhere. We have a bit before the fallout, right?”
    “We do, but we may still have to worry about the flash with a large device,” Julian answered.
    “Can I shield my eyes, like in an eclipse?” Erik asked.
    “Presumably,” Julian said. “But do be aware that a really large weapon could still cause flash burns to the skin. We’re far away, but maybe not far enough.”
    “I want to risk it,” Ethan said. “I need to see it. I need to recite some of the Lore as it happens.”
    “Then I’ll go with you. We need to stay on the ground. Light will carry further if we go into the towers, and the risk of burns will be greater if we’re dealing with airbursts rather than a groundburst. I’d still prefer an airburst. Less fallout.” Julian walked over to his personal effects. Part of the prison issue all inmates received was a set of white thermal underwear. He picked his up. “And I’m going to wear this. It’s white. It’ll tend to deflect the blast somewhat. In Hiroshima, people that wore clothing with a dark pattern had the thermal pulse burn through and imprint all over their bodies.”
    “I’ll go up, too,” Brielle said, “But I kind of need new clothes, because this uniform seems to have met with a red-headed accident.”
    Julian chuckled and got a set of scrubs for her. As he headed to the steps, several people trailed behind him. Among them were Donlan and Joshua, plus several of the soldiers. With the others behind him, Julian climbed the long stone stairwell and exited the admin building. He left the gates and walked to the center of the parking lot. Julian looked up to find Sirius and the North Star. From these, he found the southeastern direction where he knew Tucson to be. With tears stinging his eyes, he reached out telepathically to Tristan, Carey and John to be sure that the Pride was within the shelters. His spirit-sense surged, more strongly than he had ever felt it. Lifting a hand, he pointed toward Tucson and then lowered his head, shielding his eyes. The others did the same to protect their vision.
    Two great roses of light, chalky and horrible, bloomed almost at once. One was almost directly to the north, located in Phoenix. The other, at Tucson, was far brighter and nearer. Julian felt no heat upon his skin at that distance. Tens of thousands of lives ended upon the instant, and tens of thousands more felt supreme agony as they sustained hellish injuries from the heat and overpressure. They could see the hideous and unnatural fist of a mushroom cloud punching its way into the night sky.
    Julian threw back his head and screamed, so devastating was his mental anguish. He collapsed to his knees. He felt Joshua, Donlan and Brielle close around him, seeking to give him some form of comfort. He was aware of Ethan’s words as he began to quote from the Völuspá, the most well-known of the poems of the Poetic Edda.

    The sun is darkened, Earth sinks in the sea,
    from heaven turn the bright stars away.
    Rages smoke with fire, the life-feeder,
    high flame plays against heaven itself.

    Loud bays Garm before Gaping-hel,
    the bond shall be broken, the Wolf run free;
    hidden things I know; still onward I see
    the great Doom of the Powers, the gods of war.

    The bleak words cut through Julian’s pain, paradoxically shifting his despair aside in favor of the duty he had to these others. With Brielle’s help, he managed to regain his feet, ignoring the scraped knee he had gotten when he fell to the asphalt.
    “The Völuspá is all too appropriate, but the world will freeze before it burns, and it will happen quickly. It will only take a few days before the desert becomes almost as cold as the Arctic. Let’s go below and seal things up.”
    They walked back into the gates. For security’s sake, Julian used his abilities to close and lock them. He cast about to be certain that there was no one present other than those who were loyal. The only minds close by were those of the men who had run down the road and across the desert after Julian had thrown open the gates and cells. They were turning back, but it was far too late. He entered the admin building and led the others to the shelter entrance. Once he had seen them all safely within, Julian brought his telekinesis to bear once more, hiding the door as it had been before Johnny had directed Bee in opening it. He made his way down the steps, closing and locking the doors to the decontamination room. His head pounded, and his mouth was dry.
    “Here, Red. You look like shit.” Ethan set a medicine cup with two Vicodin in it, as well as his half-empty bottle of water. “I know you hate the hard stuff, but you have to sleep. You need to get at least ten hours of shut-eye. Josh, Cai, Donny and I have this. You’ve gotta take care of yourself, man.”
    Julian considered pushing the meds away, but the ibuprofen had only blunted the edges of the pain in his head, and he knew Ethan was correct. He desperately needed to rest. He chucked the pills back with a swallow of water and then went in to check on Johnny before they took effect. The moribund man was deep in his own opiate sleep, his rosary twined through his fingers. Julian tucked the blanket more closely about him, and then made his way to the large command room he had chosen as his own.
    He stripped off his clothing and lay down. Even though the Vicodin had yet to take effect, he was asleep within moments. His dreams rang with a bedlam of screams.
    #1 Zhavélékú, Aug 7, 2016
    Last edited: Aug 19, 2016
    • Like Like x 1
  2. WARNING: This chapter is sort of heavy on the gore.

    Chapter Thirty-Two: Brass, Glass, Death and Dogs
    Monday, August 27, 2012

    Over the next two days, Julian settled into the infirmary and began putting things in order. With assistance from Dr. Broussard, he also planted some of the cannabis seeds that Tom had given to him. Dr. Broussard had surprised him with seeds for other medicinal plants. One of them was one he was unsure whether he should use: the opium poppy. In the end, he decided to plant them in the event that he needed to do more for a patient’s discomfort than cannabis could manage to resolve. It would take multiple generations of the plant to provide enough opium to make a difference, but it would be good to have on hand. He was in the infirmary office setting up some charts when Dr. Broussard appeared at the door. Her eyes were haunted.

    “I need you to come with me, Julian. We have big trouble.”

    Frowning, he rose, following her. She led him to what had once been a hallway of offices. The rooms had been repurposed to use as living quarters after the war began. Julian’s heightened senses detected a terrible odor, and from many of the rooms, he could hear moans and gasps of pain.

    “Get out of this hallway, Doctor. We can’t risk you.”

    “I’ve already been exposed, Julian. My wife Patricia—one of the engineers—is sick. She woke up with a high fever and bloody blisters on her abdomen. When I left to find you, I heard what you hear now. Were any of your Pride sick when they came here?”

    “I was sick as we left Cooper Point. I was exposed to something from the infected bodies back at the prison, but it cleared up after I used a Z-pack. I was asymptomatic when we arrived.”

    “You came here sick, and you didn’t tell me?” She drew back her hand as though to strike him. “You exposed everyone in this place with that horn ceremony!”

    “You’re right. But everyone here has already had smallpox. I had no reason to believe I had anything other than what one usually finds through contact with unburied corpses. If hitting me will make you feel better—”

    “Shut your goddamn mouth. Let’s find out how many people we have sick, and find out what they have. And then you are going to treat them. When you run out of medicines to do it with, you will find more. Do you understand me, you witless, irresponsible child of a man?”

    “I do.” He was torn between shame and anger. “I will do my best. I will check the people on this passageway, and then my Pride. If anyone—”

    “Julian! There you are. We need you.” Fereshteh had appeared at the end of the hallway, Donlan behind her. They both seemed well, and Julian sagged with relief. “Everyone on the Pride hall is sick. All of them except Donny and me.”

    “Donlan, get my medical kit and that battery-operated vitals machine we brought. I also need saline and IV kits, and keep them coming until we run out. When we do, the three of us will need to make a trip into whatever is left of town to get more supplies.”

    The first room he entered was that of Norman Bradley, one of the engineers. The man was unresponsive and feverish, his temperature 105.2. Julian started an IV and administered diclofenac. Sensing the man’s pain, he also gave him some morphine. He had no diagnostic tools beyond his five senses. Having touched the minds of so many patients with smallpox, he suspected he would be able to sense similarities if Variola major was at fault.

    “I need everyone out of this room. I am going to have to use my abilities, and I can’t be sure this is going to work, so I need to concentrate.” After Dr. Broussard, Donlan and Fereshteh stepped into the hallway, Julian rested a hand upon the sick man’s brow, his other over his heart. He closed his eyes and did as he had done with Johnny, sinking into his body’s systems. What he saw horrified him.

    Smallpox, even weaponized as the strain he had encountered had been, was just a disease. What he saw ravaging the man’s body was malevolent. It seemed to be attacking every type of tissue in the man’s body, from brain cells to bone.

    It was viral.

    Julian drew back the man’s bedclothes, intending to listen to his heart and lungs. When he did so, he gasped. There were deep red lesions spreading over his torso, the skin separating from the tissues beneath. The lesions were filling with fluid and beginning to form blisters. Rather than try to touch him with the stethoscope, he sank back into trance to interface with him again. His pulse was abnormal, the ‘water hammer pulse’ seen in patients with extreme high fever. Fluid was accumulating in the man’s lungs.

    As Julian continued to examine the man, Bradley suddenly became rigid and let out a scream, his legs shaking, neck bent at an awkward angle. The convulsions made him thrash, and his eyes first flew open and then rolled back in his head. He bit down on his lower lip so hard he severed it and blood sheeted down his chin and jaw. Julian reached into the man’s brain, desperate to stop the activity through any means.

    He was finally able to control the seizure, feeling panic at the realization that he had dozens of other patients to check, all of whom could be just as severely sick. He administered anti-seizure drugs and then moved to the next room. His heart sank when he saw that it was that of Sarah Glenfield, the hydrologist with the kind eyes. He did not bother with the vitals machine this time, sensing that his results would be faster if he used his abilities. He placed a hand upon her brow, and noted that her fever, while high, was not as catastrophic as Bradley’s. She opened her eyes, looking up at him with a wince.

    “I’ve already had it,” she whispered. “How could I catch smallpox again?”

    “I don’t think this is smallpox. I don’t know what it is. What other symptoms do you have besides fever?” he asked.

    “My head. It hurts horribly. My back and hips as well, and my skin hurts so much I don’t want to move.”

    “Do you mind if I do a quick examination?”

    “Go ahead. Who was screaming? Was that Norm?”

    “Yes. Try to relax, Sarah, please. I’m going to have to use my abilities to do this. Just lie still and take some steady, deep breaths for me. I am going to put my hand back on your brow, and also over your heart, all right?”

    “As long as it’s not my tit. I’m scared of your wife.” She managed a weak smile.

    Julian smiled back and placed his hand back on her forehead, the other on her chest. He could see the same malignant wildfire of a virus attacking Sarah’s system, but he also noted that her rich orange mindlight possessed just the slightest touch of metanormal blur—something he had not noted before. Sarah was not in immediate danger, so he detached from her system and gave her medications for the pain and fever after starting an IV.

    As he checked patient after patient, he began to note that those that had even the slightest metanomrality were no worse off than a patient with severe influenza. In those that did not possess such traits, however, he saw the same series of symptoms: catastrophic fever, skin lesions and convulsions. There was little he could do for them other than to treat them symptomatically.

    He finally steeled himself and made his way to the Pride hallway. The first room he entered was Carey’s. The artist was sitting up in bed, and he turned to look at Julian. His eyes were deeply bloodshot, and he was clearly in pain.

    “Riddle me this. How the actual and factual fuck am I relapsing? I feel exactly like I did when I caught smallpox.” Carey looked more annoyed than afraid, and Julian felt a measure of relief.

    “This isn’t smallpox. This syndrome has some similarities, but it actually seems to have magickal aspects, not just physiological. We’re in real trouble. That you are well enough to bitch is encouraging. So, headache, body aches and fever. Anything else?” Julian moved forward and pushed his friend backward on the bed.

    “Asshole. No, that’s about it. I feel disoriented, but that’s probably the fever. And, next time you shove me when I have a headache, I get to kick you in the balls.”

    “Just hold still.” Julian did the same scan he had been doing all morning and determined that Carey had the lesser expression of the disease, and the metanormal tendencies that allowed for it. “Here. Ibuprofen for the pain and fever. I’m leaving you a couple of Vicodin, too, but try to stay off them unless you really can’t stand it. Stay hydrated and don’t get up and walk around. We still don’t know what the course of this disease will be. And by the way, you seem to have some slight metanormal traits, which you didn’t before. That’s why you’re not as sick as some of the patients I just got finished seeing.”

    “Fucking I have what?” Carey looked bewildered, and Julian would have laughed if the situation had not been so dire.

    “I don’t know how or why, but you now have a slight haze to your mindlight. That’s something I’ve only seen in metanormals before now. The people with normal minds are the ones who are really sick. I don’t expect to be able to save many of them, if any at all. I have to go and care for the others, and after that, Donlan, Reshti and I will need to take one of the Humvees out after supplies. While I’m gone, you and Ethan will be in charge.”

    “Julian, I’m not that sick, and you need more than just one Hummer.”

    “It’s called a Humvee, and you aren’t going anywhere in the shape you are in. Which I need to finish determining, so shut up and hold still.” He rested a hand on Carey’s brow and scanned him, determining that he indeed had the less severe expression of the new syndrome. “You definitely have the lesser of the two evils. And there will be three evils if you don’t stay in bed.”

    “Fine. Bastard.” Carey dry-swallowed the meds and laid down, making a show of scowling at the ceiling.

    “I’ll be back to check on you as soon as I can.”

    Julian left Carey’s room. The next one, across the hall, was Jaiden’s. He entered the room and his heart sank. Jaiden Ducharme lay on the floor, looking as though he had been trying to leave the room when he collapsed. His clothes were wet with red-tinged fluid in many places. Julian sank to his knees, carefully resting a hand upon his brow. As he did so, he saw that there was nothing he could do. Jaiden was comatose, and his body’s systems were shutting down. Rather than the dance of mercurial silver-green light, there was only an ashy blackness. Julian wanted to give voice to his grief as he had done when Johnny had died, but knew that doing so would only cause everyone in Habitat Alpha to panic. Tears fell as he ended Jaiden’s pain forever. He took the sheet from his bed, closed his eyes and then covered him.

    He moved from room to room. Caiaphas was dead when he reached him. He had to release Emily into death, as he had done for Jaiden. Sparkle as well was deeply comatose, with Ian screaming and weeping over her. John had to wrestle him from the room before Julian was able to examine her. She died while he was doing so. He lost Joshua, Erik and Bonner as well. The final patient to die that day was Marito, and Tyrell’s tears of grief for his friend were almost more than Julian could bear.

    One by one, he moved the bodies outside. Fereshteh’s was the only aid he would allow. She was capable of generating heat sufficient to cremate human remains, and it was with bitter tears that he spread the ashes of each of the dead over the frozen desert land. Dr. Broussard, dry-eyed and bitter, looked on as he did the same for the seven staff members she lost, including her wife. After Julian scattered Patricia’s ashes, Dr. Broussard delivered the withheld slap, almost knocking him from his feet. He had to restrain Fereshteh to keep her from attacking the botanist. The three of them returned to the main complex, Dr. Broussard to be alone with her grief and Julian and Fereshteh, to prepare to go into town. Julian checked on his patients once more while Fereshteh and Donlan loaded weapons and supplies into the heavily-armored lead HMMWV and attached its trailer. He then changed into the heavy clothing he had gotten from Tom and met Donlan and Fereshteh in the hallway, armed and ready.

    “We’re going to eventually need to see what we can do about finding a larger, operational vehicle,” Donlan said.

    “I know. We’ll be able to get some medical supplies using a vehicle of this size, but not much else. I’d like to have a Cummins Diesel truck, but I’d be willing to bet we’d have to get too close to my cousin and his fuckery to find one.”

    “Your telepathy is back. Have tried to see him?” Fereshteh asked. “You should destroy him.”

    “I’ve looked. He’s become fully metanormal, and I can’t get into his head any more than I can with Donlan. I might be able to talk to him, but that’s probably it, and it’s better than he not know anything about me or what I’m doing. We’ll have to deal with him in time, but for now, we need to get everyone who has a chance of surviving this thing to pull through. And we may need to relocate.”

    “That bitch should never have laid a hand on you,” Fereshteh said, seething.

    “Dr. Broussard took a crack at you?” Donlan smirked. “Did you put her on the ground?”

    “You know better than that, Donlan Cross. I don’t harm women.”

    “No need to be testy.”

    “Get used to it. I just lost multiple people that I loved. I’m going to be a bit raw for quite a while. We also have to think about going back to that ranch at Red Rock. I don’t want to leave those women there, and those raiders could go back and attack Tom.”

    “Then we’ve really got to get a larger vehicle.”

    “What women?” Fereshteh frowned, looking to Julian.

    “On the way down here, we came across a man named Tom Illanapi. His ranch was attacked by a group of marauders, and the one I questioned said they were holding a group of women hostage. I want to get them out of there, but at the same time I am very worried about having even more problems as a result, or having whatever men are left there go back up and try to attack Tom.”

    “You can’t save everyone, Julian. They could have disease as bad as the syndrome.”

    “I can’t leave them there, Reshti. Another reason is that there are now only two women in the Pride. Dr. Broussard is a lesbian, and the only other Habitat Alpha staff member that is female is Sarah Glenfield. That’s going to be trouble. Right now, everyone is happy for us, but it wouldn’t take much to change that.”

    To Julian’s relief, the tunnel to the south of Habitat Alpha was clear. From there, Honeybee Canyon Hospital was only fifteen minutes away. Once they got onto Moore Road, there were places where they needed to leave the road. All around them was silence and frost. Julian had to bring the Humvee down a terrible road that cut through Honeybee Canyon to meet with the back of the hospital. Before they approached too closely, he stopped the vehicle to reach out, scanning for potential trouble.

    He sent his consciousness into the hospital itself, wanting to be certain that they would not be wasting their time. The place was every bit as hellish as the upholstery shop had been back at Cooper Point. Bodies in various states of decay lay on beds, gurneys and floors, most of them now frozen. A fire had gutted the orthopedics building. Knowing the basics of hospital organization was helpful, however, and Julian soon found what he was looking for: a hospital pharmacy that had not been burned or looted. It was located near the intensive care unit.

    “We will be safe in doing what we need to do here. However, it’s really bad in there. There are massive numbers of bodies, and there has been no effort to do so much as move them outside, even before the bombs. You are going to see some vile things. I need to know that I can rely upon you.”

    “I am not afraid to go anywhere that you go, Julian,” Fereshteh said. “Nothing can be worse than Akashat.”

    “I’ve got your back. At least with our eyes, we don’t need to care about losing the light,” Donlan said.

    “We still need to hurry. I don’t want to deal with other survivors in this situation. We’re looking for medicine that can replenish what I’ve just had to expend in reducing the suffering of the people that died today. I will need to go into some places that will mean contact with very decomposed bodies. Even this cold doesn’t stop those processes. If you follow me all the way in, expect to get messy.”

    They both nodded, and Julian pulled the Humvee as close to the doors as he could. There was a dead ornamental cactus in a large pot. As the HMMWV struck it, it rolled to the side and shattered. The door of the hospital was partially blocked by a gurney. The bodies of two paramedics were beside it, both with fatal gunshot wounds. The body on the gurney was that of a hemorrhagic smallpox victim. It was so decomposed that its sex was impossible to determine. Julian used his abilities to launch all three bodies and the gurney over the Humvee and into the parking lot. There was a sound of shattering glass as the gurney struck a vehicle.

    Moving with caution, the three of them made their way through the foyer. The stench was almost like a physical force, threatening them. The entry was a charnel house. Along one wall, bodies had been carefully stacked, but the panic and deterioration in the facility could be tracked in the way that subsequent victims had been dropped, and then dumped, and then thrown. Someone had hurled a dead infant with all his strength. The baby lay draped over a toppled sign that brayed an advertisement for a women’s wellness program. They picked their way around the unspeakable, making their way to the stairs.

    The stairwell had also been used as a body dump. Julian had to telekinetically rip corpses off of the steps, occasionally rupturing gas-bloated bellies or causing limbs to detach. Fereshteh was impassive; Donlan, after vomiting several times, was pallid but capable. They made slow progress as Julian cleared a path on steps slick with a film of putrescence.

    The hallway leading to the Intensive Care Unit looked like something painted by Hieronymus Bosch. The scene was a chaos of death. What smallpox had not taken, violence had. A woman in scrubs rested against one wall, a scalpel in one hand and her throat awash in the blackness of old blood. A note pinned to her clothing was written in merry pink lipstick, and read ‘I can take no more. See you in the beyond.’.

    Julian located the pharmacy. Although efforts had been made to get into the room, the lock had resisted them. It looked as though someone had attempted to shoot the lock out as well as gouging at the door hinges. Julian dropped into the lock’s mechanism and found it to be impossible. The damage done to the lock was so extensive that the pins and tumblers had fused.

    “Wait here. I have to find a hot-spot. The only way we are getting into the area where the important drugs will be is going to be for me to rip this door off. Hopefully, I won’t have to do the same with the narcotics safes.”

    “We’ll keep watch,” Fereshteh said. She hefted the AR-15 she carried and tipped her head up to kiss his lips. “Hurry.”

    Julian picked his way back along the hasty path he had cleared. Once outside the doors, he began to scan for the beauty of a radioactive glow. It did not take him long to find what he was searching for. There was a handicapped ramp leading to a side door. Fallout had collected where the ramp made a turn, and Julian walked over to stand within it.

    This hot-spot was precisely what he needed, energetic enough for him to power up as strongly as he had done when they arrived at Habitat Alpha. He took the same delirious ride, feeling the heady pulse of power behind his eyes. He hopped the railing and walked back to the doors. He marveled that he could feel cleanly empowered by what was so lethal to others.

    He went back into the ICU, ignoring the stink and the visual horror of the surroundings. Fereshteh and Donlan were waiting, weapons at a loose ready-arms. He was glad of their combat experience and capabilities in defense as he dropped into trance.

    He focused on the weakest points of the pharmacy door—the latch and hinges. The door opened toward him. Using brute strength in an attempt to push it inward would waste energy, and might not meet with success. He sent his awareness to the other side of the door, noting that the safes seemed undamaged. On the floor were two bodies. They did not look like they had succumbed to either violence or disease. Lying in an embrace, it seemed the pair, both female, had died from dehydration, afraid to leave the pharmacy because of the violence outside.

    Julian then concentrated on the door once again, the gathered energy bunching within him like a tensed muscle. He sent a mental warning to Donlan and Fereshteh, warning them to stay well away from the door. He applied steady pressure, and the masonry around the door began to crack and buckle. Finally, the door gave way with a crash, shaking the floor and coming to rest before his ptomaine-slicked boots.

    As Julian scanned to be sure that it was structurally safe to proceed, he became aware that there were two others approaching the hospital from the front. He gestured to Donlan and Fereshteh to enter the pharmacy and take cover behind one of the counters. He extended his awareness to examine the two intruders.

    One was male, a boy of only fourteen. The other, female, had a croupy, barking cough and was weak and feverish. Inwardly, he swore, noting that they seemed to know their way around the facility and were approaching the ICU. The boy had a .22 Marlin rifle in his shaking hands, and the woman was armed with a .38 revolver. They seemed familiar with the weapons, but not with proper procedure for entering a potentially-dangerous area. The woman had a sage-colored light that was mottled with greyish ill health. The boy’s light was plum, shot through with threads of yellow panic. His fear for the woman was intense, and the emotional attachment told Julian that this woman was his mother. Neither mind seemed to be adversarial; they were merely desperate. They had come to the hospital for the same reasons Julian had done—they needed medications for the woman’s cough.

    “The people inbound are a woman and her son,” Julian murmured to the others. “They are well-fed and wearing clean clothes. That means some form of shelter close at hand. I’m going to try to talk to them and see what happens. The woman needs medical treatment for a cough. I’ll offer to examine her and find her the right meds, but I’m going to ask a heavy price. Don’t let them see you unless this goes sour.”

    As soon as he had their nods of consent, Julian looked around. His eyes settled on a piece of metal from the door jamb that had sheared off when he had taken the door down. Picking it up, he walked to a metal support column that protruded slightly from the wall. Scanning out for the mother and son’s minds, he gave it three loud raps. He could sense that they startled, freezing like rabbits watching a stoat. After a moment, they moved forward again. Julian waited until they had come up the stairs on the other end of the hallway, which was around the corner from the pharmacy. And then, he rapped on the pipe once again. Once again, they stopped.

    “Who’s there?” The youth’s voice broke as he called out, bravado broken by adolescence, a crack in his voice.

    “Don’t be afraid,” Julian answered. “I’m not going to hurt either of you. I’m a nurse, and I have the pharmacy open. That’s why you’re here, isn’t it?”

    “Whoa, dude,” the lad said. “How do you know that?”

    “Drew, be careful! Don’t get too—” The rest of her words were buried under a savage coughing fit.

    “You’re Drew. And I am Julian. You will understand how I know when you come around the corner. I’m not going to ask you to drop that rifle, but keep your muzzle down. Agreed?”

    “Okay. No, Mom, if this guy can help—”

    “What if he’s one of those cops, Drew?”

    “Believe me, I have nothing to do with the group of police officers that’s gone rogue. I can help you. I give you my word.” Julian began to move forward, allowing his gait to make some noise, rather than being as predator-silent in footfall as he usually was. “I’m coming closer to you. I’m also armed, but my weapon is slung behind me. If you come around the corner, you will see me clearly in the light from the windows.” He could feel Drew and his mother inching forward. Finally, he saw the boy’s sloe eyes as he peered around the corner, an unruly black curl falling over one eye. He slowly stepped into the hallway and stared.

    “You’re that guy. The one they say killed the soldiers.” He looked about to either bolt or shoot.

    “I am. But there are more sides to that story.” Julian kept his tone even. Mother and son had no way to know that he had put a telekinetic shield up, as he had done in the shelter at Cooper Point. Even if they opened fire, it would avail them nothing. “And I’m what I say I am. I was a Hospital Corpsman, and that means I can help your mother find the right antibiotics, and also give her the doses she needs. But I need your help in return.”

    “We don’t have any way to help you,” the woman said. “We don’t have enough food for ourselves, let alone strangers.”

    “What if I told you that I have means at my disposal to get food? I have a group of ten people and one good cat. We have three Humvees and a lot of weapons, but we need shelter. With that one thing, we could gain some ground.”

    “A cat?” The corners of Drew’s mouth lifted slightly. “We have cats where we are. We have them because the place has rats really bad. I got a kitten from one of the mother cats and she’s special.”

    “My Kára is special, too. She’s very old, though. Seventeen.” He looked to the woman. “What is your name?”

    “Cindy Ellis. You know my son’s name already. And you are Julian… I’m not going to try that German ‘u’ in your last name. I watched the story back when your uncle got arrested.”

    “Let’s get you taken care of, Cindy. And then we can talk a little more about what’s going on with the people that follow me. I have two other people with me. One is my wife, and the other is my former cellmate, almost like a little brother to me. Drew, Donlan’s only six years older than you are.” He nodded in invitation that they should follow him, and then gave the appearance of utter trust as he put his back to them. The shield remained in place. “Donlan… Fereshteh. Come out and meet us.”

    Fereshteh was first to step out of the pharmacy door. Behind him, he heard both of the people behind him gasp. Her eyes had glinted in a strong tapetum flash. A moment later, Donlan emerged, throwing his long black hair out of his face and grinning.

    “This is Donlan Cross, and this is my wife, Fereshteh Würger. And this is Drew Ellis, and his mother Cindy,” Julian said.

    “You all have really scary eyes,” Drew said, his voice just above a whisper.

    “We are metanormals,” Fereshteh said. “The world and everything in it is changing. Don’t be afraid.”

    “Dude, I’m not afraid. I’m scared shitless.”

    “Language, Drew. Julian, I am after something other than meds for this cough.” She blinked back tears. “My husband died here. He worked here and had access to the pharmacy, and was bringing the men who sheltered with us here to try and get at the medicines and other supplies. The police showed up.” She wiped at her eyes with the edge of her coat sleeve. “They demanded that Jack open the pharmacy and hand over the drugs and he refused. He threw the keys down a pneumatic tube and they shot him. We were going to try to find them, but we obviously don’t need to do that now. The other thing I want…” Her voice was muffled by first a sob and then another fit of coughing. Julian pulled an office chair over and settled her upon it, and she continued. “My husband’s rings, if they didn’t take them. His Masonic and wedding ring. I can’t bury him, I know. But I want those rings.”

    “If we find the rings, would there be help for a poor widow’s son?” Donlan asked softly.

    Cindy looked up at him sharply and began to cough again. She seemed to be caught entirely off-guard. “Of course,” she whispered. “What do you need, Donlan?”

    “We need out of Habitat Fuckin’ Alpha. Julian… my grandfather was a Freemason. You need to tell ‘em why we need out of there.”

    “So mote it be.” Julian knew just enough about Freemasonry to use the salutation. “We have been sheltering in Habitat Alpha, up in the Tortolita Mountains. There is sickness, and we are catching the blame for it. I personally think it’s probably coincidental, but the director does not. Rather than damage the facility, I am going to ask her for seed stocks and some equipment in exchange for our departure. Hardball, I know, but this is a harsh time. I have not come this far to let my followers and my cat die.”

    “What just got invoked is something profound,” Cindy said. “I have to help you.”

    “Let me do a quick physical exam. This isn’t going to go like anything else a doctor or nurse has ever done. I am using metanormal abilities, not the usual diagnostic tools. You wondered how I saw you, and how this door came down?” Julian saw a pen resting on the floor, close beside Drew’s booted foot. He extended a hand and called it to him, allowing it to hover and slowly turn. “Let’s do this, and then find your husband.”

    “Whoa,” Drew whispered, his eyes wide.

    “I’m scared,” Cindy whispered. “Is this going to hurt?”

    “Not in the slightest. All I have to do is rest a hand upon your brow. Drew, would you be so kind as to wait outside the pharmacy for just a moment? This is still a medical examination.” Drew gave a hesitant nod and stepped outside the door.

    Cindy bit her lip and nodded. Julian bade the rest of the small group to remain outside as he conducted his examination. He placed a hand on Cindy’s forehead and entered the astral state, interfacing with her body. As he did so, he saw something both unwelcome and unexpected.

    The cough wasn’t due to bronchitis, as he had thought. He could see abnormal growth spreading through her bronchi. The small-cell carcinoma had already made its way to a lymph node in her right armpit. Without the proper equipment and the assistance of a qualified oncologist, he had no chance of saving Cindy Ellis. A flash of anger and resentment flowed through Julian, followed by a deep grief.

    “Cindy, do you smoke?” he asked.

    “I used to, before the bombs.”

    “How long before?” he asked. He called another office chair over and settled upon it.

    “I ran out of them about a week after the war started.”

    “I have some very unfortunate news. What I saw when I scanned you was bad. You have small-cell carcinoma. This is a terminal disease and the progression is going to be rapid. It’s already in your lymphatic system.”

    “What? You’re wrong. You have to be wrong. You have to be wrong!” The final words came out in a scream and she grabbed at the front of his coat. “I can’t die! My son! The rest of the Temple! You have to be wrong!”

    Drew ran back into the pharmacy, his eyes stricken. “Mom! What is it?” He gave Julian an accusatory look. “What did you do to my mother, you freak?” He started to bring the Marlin rifle around by its strap, but Julian held it where it was with one hand.

    “I didn’t do anything. I examined her and saw something really tragic. I need you to calm down and listen to me.” He nodded to Donlan, who had returned when Drew shouted. Donlan took the rifle away from the angry youth. “You are going to need to be brave. More brave than you have ever been. Your mother doesn’t have bronchitis. When I examined her, I saw a form of cancer that’s called small-cell carcinoma or oat-cell cancer. Even with the best of equipment, I wouldn’t be able to help. I’m a nurse practitioner and my specialty was combat medicine, not oncology. Do you understand?”

    “My mom’s going to die?” The question was asked in a whisper.

    “Drew, honey,” Cindy said. She broke into a spate of coughing, her agitation worsening her symptoms. She reached out for her son, and he came to her, rasping sobs tearing from him as he huddled in her arms. “I don’t know if he’s right. But I feel weak. The cough is getting worse and there’s been blood.” Her eyes, streaming tears, looked toward Julian. “Will you at least give me some antibiotics? Just in case you’re wrong?”

    “I will.” Julian knew that to refuse would not only distress Cindy, it would be damaging to her son. He turned, quietly directing the others to begin loading out medicines. As they did so, he found a bottle of azithromycin. It was least likely to cause side effects under the circumstances. He levitated an empty medicine bottle to his hand and dispensed fourteen pills into it. “You need to take these twice daily for a week and see if there is any change.” He was crestfallen. The thought of her eventual reaction worried him; he knew the antibiotic would be ineffective. “I’m going to work on getting these safes open. We need the pain medications as critically as we do antibiotics. Cindy, what kind of vehicle do you have here?”

    “You’re going to be very happy when I tell you.” She offered Julian a teary smile. “We have a large utility truck. It’s a customized Unimog. Some places on the Temple lands are pretty rough, and it’s got both balls and clearance. Betsy Rose has the capacity of a twenty-two-foot moving truck but the clearance of a Land Rover. I brought her because I wanted to see if we could look around in more than one place here on the north side. There might be other stuff we can use.”

    “You have no idea how right you are, Cindy.” Julian smiled. “That solves multiple problems, such as the worry we had about getting everything we need out of Habitat Alpha without multiple trips. And it also means you must have found a way around the chaos all over the roads out there.”

    “The Temple sits on sixty acres. It’s very close to Habitat Alpha. We’ll gather some things and then go back to the Temple to leave them there. And then we can go and get your group,” Cindy said.

    “The Pride.” Fereshteh said softly. “Julian is the Tiger, and we are called the Pride.”

    “You have a cool accent,” Drew said. He still looked frightened and sad, and Julian could tell he was trying to distract himself from the news he had been given.

    “I am from Iraq,” Fereshteh said. She smiled.

    “Were you in the war?”
    “Oh, yes. Julian saved me from the war, in fact. That’s how we fell in love. He is a good man. Would you like to help us load the trucks?” She offered a hand, her wedding and engagement rings sparkling in the light of the hand-crank lantern Donlan had just switched on.

    “Yeah. I guess.” He allowed Fereshteh to direct him in carrying two plastic garbage bags full of medications.

    “Let’s see if we can find your husband,” Julian said softly.

    They stepped out of the pharmacy and began to look through the ICU. Julian allowed Cindy to use the crank lantern and take one side, while he took the other. As he was moving between two of the beds, he saw a foot wearing a dress shoe, protruding from the bathroom door. He walked over and saw that one hand, clenched as though in defiance, bore two rings, both rose gold. One was a simple wedding band, set with a diamond. The other had the square and compass, the venerable emblem of the Freemasons. Julian reached a hand down and used his abilities to snap off the partially-mummified finger that held the rings. He slid them off and tucked them into a pocket. Then he pulled down the dividing curtain between the beds and used it to cover Jack Ellis.

    “Cindy, I found him. I have his rings,” he called.

    He heard her footsteps running from the other end of the hallway, and the hack and rasp of the terrible cough that plagued her. Gently, he took her hand in his own and settled the rings within it. She broke into tears, and he gently embraced her, offering comfort.

    “We’ll find a jewelry store so you can have a chain for them,” he said softly. “My wife’s ability is fire. She can generate enough heat to cremate him, if that’s what you wish. He doesn’t have to stay here.”

    “I think I would,” she whispered. “We can keep a vial of ashes apiece and allow the desert to take the rest.”

    “Let me wrap him better. I don’t want Drew to have to see his father this way. He’s been very brave, but I remember how hard things were for me at fourteen. I don’t think we should add to the burden.”

    Julian wrapped Jack Ellis’ body carefully in the curtain, tucking it well under the head and feet. With strips from a torn sheet, he tied it in place. He called a pause for Fereshteh, Donlan and Drew, and the group of them made their way to a barren patch of desert ground. Fereshteh understood without asking what it was she needed to do. She stepped onto a patch of irradiated dust, some distance away from the group. Julian watched in awe as his wife drew power from roentgens, radiating its energy as though astral light poured from her very flesh. He recalled the meaning of her name: ‘Angel’. In that moment, she resembled precisely that.

    She paced across the icy ground, the heat she radiated melting the frost. By the time she came to stand beside the body, the ground was smoldering some inches away from her feet; John had taught her ways to keep her clothing from igniting when she used her abilities. She extended her hands, focusing the energy. The rest of the group was forced to back away as the air surrounding the body rose to a searing four thousand degrees. The corpse immediately burst into flames.

    No matter how many times he saw Fereshteh use fire, Julian was awed. He could hear Drew and Cindy sobbing behind him. Donlan’s glorious voice lifted in song, singing Absent Brethren, one of the hymns used in Freemasonry. The lyrics seemed to raise the spirit of the man into the sheltering arms of his waiting God. At the end, Julian’s voice echoed the concluding words of the hymn: So Mote It Be. In a normal crematorium, the combustion of human remains would take two hours or more, depending on the size of the decedent. Here, it took only forty-five minutes. Finally, Fereshteh turned to Julian.

    “You should separate some of the ashes from the rest so they can cool,” she said.

    Julian nodded and kissed her lips. Standing close to her was like standing in the summer sun before the war. He lifted a hand and drew ash from the area where the cremated man’s chest would have been It took only a few minutes for it to be cool enough to place into an empty pill bottle he had brought down for the purpose. He went to Drew and Cindy, lost in their grief. When they were able to turn to face him, he gently took Drew’s hands and placed the still-warm bottle of ash into them.

    “You need to do what your father would want you to do and take care of your mom. Do you understand?” he said softly.

    “Yes, sir.” The solemnity and sorrow of the moment led the boy to be more formal than he had been before.

    “Good man. Keep these safe. When we go into town, we will find something beautiful for you to use as flasks to carry them.”

    “Thank you, Julian,” Cindy whispered. She broke into another coughing fit and Julian moved her to stand closer to Fereshteh.

    “Let’s get you somewhere warmer. This air won’t do you any favors, and it’s going to get colder when it’s fully dark. Also, we will be able to see without needing an external light source, which is better considering the danger of any visible light showing in a window. I’d feel better if the two of you were keeping warm and staying out of sight. After we finish this load-out, I’ll pull the Humvee around.”

    “Can I ride in it?” Drew asked.

    “That’s actually not a bad idea,” Fereshteh said. “Cindy, I will drive for you, since I can do it with the headlights off. We don’t use them when we can avoid it, to avoid being seen as easily.”

    “I’ll teach you how to use the radio,” Donlan said. Their relative closeness in age meant he was warming to the lad.

    “Can you teach me to sing like you do, too?” Drew asked.

    “I can. I’m teachin’ Julian to use his voice better, and also play bass. We’ve got to do somethin’ to keep him from either keepin’ us up all night screwin’ his wife or cryin’ all over his cat.”

    “Du mutterfickener Wichser du!”

    “I don’t know what you called me, but fuck off.”

    “You started it!”

    “No, you.” Donlan turned to Drew. “Don’t start actin’ like this. Because you can’t stick a rose in an arsehole and call him a vase.”

    “Will you both stop it? He doesn’t need to learn this language.” Fereshteh’s hands were on her hips, and she scowled ferociously at the two of them.

    “Come on, Drew,” Cindy said. “You can teach them that you’re just as gross as they are once we’re on the road.” Shaking her head, she led her son to the truck the two of them had arrived in.

    The three metanormals made short work of the pharmacy. They also gathered some nonperishable foods that they found in a storage room that had been overlooked. Julian intended to leave some of it with Dr. Broussard to replace the resources they had used. Finally, with the last light fading from the sky, the two heavy vehicles set out for the Masonic Temple. They followed a series of increasingly-obscure roads from the hospital and back into the Tortolita Mountains. Julian was surprised to see the size and complexity of construction on the land owned by the Temple. The huge chapel surpassed the size of the church attended by Ian and Matthias. He could see grounds that were built to accommodate the circus when it was in town. There were living quarters standing silent under a light dusting of snow, and also many large barns. As they approached, several people, all women, emerged from what looked like a pump house close by the parade field. One of them, a portly woman with grey, pixie-cut hair approached them cautiously. Julian saw Cindy make a subtle gesture of one hand, though he didn’t catch what it was. The woman relaxed, and stepped up to embrace her.

    “This is Julian Würger and his wife, Fereshteh. That’s Donlan Cross, and they helped me get what I needed. They did right by Jack, too. Donlan’s grandfather was a Freemason and he knew how to ask for help. I’ll vouch for all three. These are good people. And guys, this is Melora Hollcroft. She’s the Queen of Shahrazi Temple Seventy-Seven.” As Cindy spoke, Julian felt a chill at the number of the Temple.

    “With a Humvee that has a gun emplacement and the weapons they’re carrying, I’m sure glad they’re on our side. Let’s get everything and everyone down into Underhall.” Melora’s lips were curved in an odd and knowing smile.

    “Drew and I will come down. But they need Betsy Rose, because they’re going to make a trip into town for other things we all need. Believe me when I say they’re very capable of keeping themselves and the vehicles safe.”

    “And fueled. One thing we need to do by day is regroup with a friend of ours in Arizona City,” Julian said. “He has a large ranch and there’s a 5,000-gallon diesel tank to go with it. One of the things we will be able to do, between Tom Illinapi and the people at Habitat Alpha, is get set up to produce biodiesel. It won’t be perfect because of the cold, but it will be better than nothing. With biodiesel, we can get the power back on to a limited degree.”

    “I see why you brought them.” Melora said. “Go with my blessing, then. Bring Betsy Rose back in one piece. If you can come down for a few minutes, I’ll write up a list of some things I want you to find for us, if you can.”

    “I’ll be glad to do it,” Julian said. “We’re not gathering enough supplies to fill a twenty-foot cargo truck. We primarily need items like clothing. I also need to find a music store that hasn’t been raided.”

    “There’s one near Foothills Mall. It’s called Noteworthy Music. One of our Lodge brethren worked there before smallpox got him. They have some high-end stuff and the building would be shuttered. I’ll get the key from his wife,” Melora said.

    “Danke schön. We have two very gifted musicians, and I am supposed to learn to play bass to support them. Music will be critical for morale in the coming days.”

    “We have a few people who play as well. One of them is a music major that plays wind instruments—flute, oboe and shawm.”
    “What’s that, then?” Donlan asked.

    “It’s the medieval predecessor to the oboe,” Melora said. “And Xiang’s not allowed to play it unless she has at least one door between herself and anyone who’s asleep. The damned thing is loud. A suggestion; clean the store out. Every instrument, all of the music. I agree that we’re going to need music to carry us through months of hell.”
    Julian and Fereshteh chose to travel in the HMMWV and Donlan, following them, drove Betsy Rose, the cargo truck. Reaching the environs of Foothills Mall was very difficult going. Repeatedly, they had to either winch disabled vehicles out of the road or leave the road entirely. A journey that should have taken thirty minutes took five hours.

    Foothills Mall had been completely ransacked and much of it burned. Though the affluent area seemed to be somewhat more intact than many, there were no immediate signs of anyone alive. Many bodies lay in the streets or within vehicles. There was a stink of death on the wind. Julian periodically scanned to see if he could sense nearby minds. The few he detected were disinclined to leave the meager shelter in which they huddled. He chose to pay them no heed. Fereshteh was right; he could not save everyone. In time, they would know his dominion if they lived long enough to see him seize control of the city.

    They found a large sporting goods store, but it had been looted; there was almost nothing of use on the shop’s main floor. Julian checked the building thoroughly, however, and found a locked stock area, goods sequestered behind a rolling metal door. He made quick work of the lock and opened it. There was a bonanza of clothing and boots, as well as a few other items. They all changed clothes and selected frame backpacks and canteens. They then loaded everything of use into the truck. Dawn was turning the eastern sky to grey. In the distance, Julian saw a gaunt young man, all but hairless from radiation sickness. He stood in the middle of the street, watching them. Julian took one of the smaller packs and clothing that seemed of a size to fit the man. He rolled the clothes into the pack and launched it as far as he could throw it toward him, opting not to frighten him with his talents. The man did not approach. Rather, he fled, disappearing between two buildings.

    “Poor blighter,” Donlan said. “Probably doesn’t know what to make of us.”

    “Sick and afraid. He is not like us. He’s probably gotten a lethal dose of radiation, out there like that. At least he will die warm,” Fereshteh said.

    Julian’s spirit-sense pinged suddenly. Just as it did so, there sounded a volley of barks.

    “Weapons free!” It was all Julian had time to shout. His own AR-15, slung at his shoulder, would take too much time to bring around. He stepped in front of Donlan and Fereshteh and brought other means of defense to bear. Covering the streets and sidewalks was a huge amount of broken glass. As he had done the night of the hurricane at Cooper Point, Julian lifted it with his telekinesis and created a whirling cloud of lethal, dagger-sharp shards. He propelled the glass at the dogs, slashing at them. The pack consisted of at least twenty individuals; the glass immediately took out over half of them. He was aware of the sharp sound of gunfire as the other two drew down on the ferals. The sound and the loss of most of their fellows sent the survivors fleeing. Julian dropped the rest of the glass, the pieces falling with a brittle crash.

    “Fuckin’ shite!” Donlan snapped. “That’ll be a problem all over, so it will. Lots of bodies for ‘em to feed on.”

    “You’re right. And we need to get out of here. I don’t care for the idea of someone locating us because of the sound of the weapons discharge. We need to hit the music store and then get as far away from this area as we can.” Julian took the driver’s seat of the Humvee once more, and they set out for Noteworthy Music.

    The store was intact. Between the steel shutters on its doors and windows and the raw need for items like food and clothing, no one had made more than a cursory attempt to get inside. Julian unlocked the shutters and the front doors. As he stepped in, he was impressed at the size of the store. He nodded to the other two to begin gathering and loading everything they saw.

    Though he had keys to the store doors, he lacked them for the cases. One by one, they smashed them, taking everything from flutes to guitar strings to harmonicas. The many guitars would take far too much time to collect, so he had Donlan choose a broad selection of the best of them, spread between acoustic and electric. Donlan took a handsome Fender Deluxe electric bass guitar for Julian as well as an Ibanez acoustic. They loaded amplifiers, wind instruments, representatives of the entire violin family and many other things. They even found medieval and ancient instruments like lutes, harps and pan-pipes. They selected the best of the drums, including a huge kit for Tyrell. Last to be loaded with exquisite care was a citar, including every possible string and part they could find for it.

    By the time they finished, Betsy Rose was full, and they were ready to make the trek back to the Temple. It would take far less time to return since they had cleared the road wherever they could. As they set out, however, Julian looked upward and spat out a curse.

    “It’s about to start snowing again. Let’s get moving. This weather won’t do the instruments any good, and I don’t want to be stuck in town.” He entered the Humvee, but paused for a moment. “I’m not sure why, but I think I need you on the .50-cal, Donlan.”

    “Do you sense something?” Fereshteh looked worried. She brought her weapon around, holding it across her chest.

    “I do. I’m not certain what, but keep your rifle in grab range and your sidearm leather loose. We could be dealing with dogs or worse.”

    “I don’t need tellin’ twice,” Donlan said. He took position on the large gun atop the HMMWV. The emplacement of this most heavily-armored of their vehicles was, fortunately, outfitted with a full gunner protection kit. Donlan settled into place, strapping into the harness and pulling up the hood of his parka.

    Moving as rapidly as they dared, they left the area. The weight of the vehicles and type of tires upon them made the going less treacherous than it would have been for a normal vehicle, but Julian still hissed and growled a steady stream of obscenities in English, German and even Farsi as he drove, very aware of the increasing danger. The snow was granular and would make for hazardous driving conditions. His spirit-sense was a constant hum of threat.

    The hum became a sudden shout, and Julian eased the brakes on. He could hear the larger truck behind them growling to a stop. He sent his awareness outward, an invisible scout, and what he saw made him spit a few more curses. There was a roadblock ahead of them, comprised of several heavy trucks and another HMMWV. Standing before the vehicles was a group of armed men. Abruptly, he felt his telepathy damped. It was like being suddenly rendered blind.

    “Get ready. We’re going to have to do this the old-fashioned way. Drew, I need you back at the truck, protecting your mom. Don’t do anything until I give you the all-clear.”

    “What’s going on? What happened?” Drew’s dark eyes widened with fright.

    “There’s trouble ahead. A roadblock. I’m not sure how they found out we had come into town, but my bet is they see where we’ve cleared the road. Whatever this is, it has to do with my thrice-fucked cousin. He has my telepathy throttled again. Go back to the truck and have Reshti come up and join me. If someone approaches you, run if you can, fight if you must.”

    When the young man moved back to Betsy Rose, Julian called up to Donlan on the .50-cal.

    “I’m going to scout forward. I need the two of you to hold this position in case they send us guests. I don’t care what you do in defense—don’t allow them access to the vehicles. Fire, speed, any means necessary.” He brushed Fereshteh’s lips with a kiss and slipped away from the Humvee.

    Julian fell back on his SEAL training and vanished into the scrub of cholla and desert broom. The vegetation was rimed in frost, and the snow was a stinging misery, born on a wind that had teeth. Between his telekinesis and his innate strength and skill, he was able to approach the barricade in stealth. As he moved close, he saw a diesel-powered van with police markings, two heavy-duty Dodge Ram trucks and the Humvee. He was relieved to see that the gunner’s emplacement was empty. But then, emerging from the back of the van, he saw an unwelcome face.


    His lip writhed back from his teeth in a snarl more vicious than those that had been worn by the feral dog pack. He cast about to look for a radiation hot-spot. Faint radiance shimmered from beneath a stand of brittle scrub mesquite, and he approached it. He drank as deeply as he could; there was little energy there, and to power up fully would have cost too much time. He caught his breath, releasing it in a long sigh.

    Holy Mother of Death and Darkness, Babalon the Mighty, guide my hand and my talents. My cousin must die, he prayed.

    Julian pulled his sight upward, looking down upon the blockade with astral eyes. As he did so, he saw a large, free-standing chunk of granite behind a hummock, out of direct line of sight from the roadblock. Knowing he needed to disable the HMMWV’s .50-cal, Julian reached to the chunk of stone, freeing it from the substrate. He lifted it high into the sky, brought it over the rise and directly above the roadblock, and then let it fall.

    The sound of shattering glass and shearing metal echoed over the desert. One of the men screamed in agony; the slab of jagged stone had pinned his legs beneath it. Karl shouted orders, seeking to control the panic of his men. One of them broke and ran, and Karl raised his sidearm and shot him in the head. The other men rallied closer to Karl.

    “Julian!” Karl screamed. “I know you’re out there, you Satan! Tonight this ends!”

    Julian’s answer was to lift the boulder again. He attempted to pin Karl with it, but he jumped aside. The boulder shattered, chunks of stone flying in all directions. A piece caught Karl in the calf, and blood colored the snow. Now limping, Karl made for the police van. He gunned the engine and fled down the road before Julian could strike him with any of the stone that littered the road. Enraged and now afraid for Fereshteh and the rest of the group, Julian opened fire with his AR-15, taking two men out with controlled five-round bursts. Rounds peppered Julian’s telekinetic shield as he advanced. One of Karl’s men, out of ammunition, threw down his weapon and dropped to his knees, screaming pleas for his life. Julian ignored him in favor of adding more bodies to the deepening snow. Three more men fell, and then the man who had surrendered was alone with Julian.

    “Please,” he whispered. “Please, don’t.”

    “I will, and horribly, unless you cooperate.”

    “I don’t want to die. I have a kid. My son’s only six. He won’t make it without—”

    “My cousin killed a pregnant woman. One of my best friends never even got to hold his son. You will cooperate with me in anything I demand or I will fucking skin you alive. I mean that literally.”

    “Anything. Please, just let me live.”

    Before Julian could speak, he heard gunfire in the distance. There was a series of sharp raps that sounded like a nine-millimeter, and then the cough of the Humvee’s .50-cal. Julian’s hand flashed out and the captured man lifted from the ground to dangle two feet up, Julian’s hellfire gaze burning up at him.

    “You are coming with me. Don’t try to run—I will kill you if you do. Keep up or else.” He then dropped the man and broke into a sprint. He could hear running footfalls behind him as the man fought to keep up with him. Julian made it back to the HMMWV and saw something that made panic boil up within him. There was blood on the snow here as well, and it was Fereshteh’s. Donlan had cut her clothes aside and used surgical tape from Julian’s medical pack to tape a piece of plastic over a hole in her side. Julian fled to her, falling to his knees.

    “Secure this man. Put him on his belly and watch him. If he moves, paint the pavement with his brains.” He then looked to Fereshteh as she reached to his hand, trying to smile. “Don’t move, my love. Don’t try to talk.” This was exactly the kind of injury he was least-equipped to handle. It would take a surgical theatre and a trauma team to close the defect in her chest wall, and he did not even have the means to see if the bullet was still within her body. His telepathy had been blocked again and he was unable to interface with her system.

    Great Lady, I am begging You, don’t take her from me. Don’t take my Reshti. I cannot bear another loss. By whatever means please You, allow me to save my wife. Julian’s frantic prayer, rendered with his hands slick with Fereshteh’s blood, was answered.

    He was yanked roughly into the astral, as he had been years before when Avery died. Karl had been at fault that time, as well. Once again, Julian was pulled back and back, until he could see a world choking under black clouds. In many places, there were patches of darkness where once great seas of light had been. He understood these to be death, areas where no humans remained. Julian became aware that, in many of these, points of far brighter light could be seen. The colors were intense and much stronger than the glow of normal minds. He realized that they all had the same characteristic: the haze of metanormality. But from each, tendrils of black spiraled outward. Where they touched the dimmer minds of normals, the fainter lights went dark. It was as though these powerful individuals were exuding a toxin. Here and there, however, dull lights grew more intense, some approaching metanormal levels of energy.

    As he had the last time the Dark Lady had done this, Julian screamed. The pain in his throat and Donlan’s hand on his shoulder were what brought him back to the snowy road, the vehicles and Fereshteh’s red blood, as red as the hijab she had allowed to fall from her hair, never to be worn again. He looked at his hands, and covering their palms to the wrist were huge blisters filled with a silvery fluid that looked like mercury. There was a scent in the air, an aroma similar to narcissus, cloying and indolic. One of the blisters had ruptured, and the fluid fell from his fingertip. It landed on a scrape upon Fereshteh’s cheek, where she had fallen after being shot. In disbelief, he watched as the fluid disappeared into her skin. The scrape faded and was gone, leaving no trace. He did not question it; he took action. He pulled the field dressing from the wound and clenched his hands, allowing the gleaming fluid to break forth and then drain into the open wound. He sat her up and did the same for the exit wound. Fereshteh began to cough and then drew a great, whooping gasp of air. At first, frothy blood emerged from both wounds, but the flow lessened, becoming a trickle, and then ceased completely. She coughed and spat, over and over again, expelling the blood that had soaked her lung as though some force were pushing the blood and fluid out of her body.

    “My steth. Now!” Julian barked as he supported her. He heard Donlan’s boots crunching in the snow as he made for the Humvee and Julian’s medical pack. A moment later, cold metal touched his hand, and he grabbed the stethoscope. He jammed the eartips into his ears and placed the diaphragm to her back. The sound in her left lung was sodden with fluid, but with every cough, the lung became clearer. She continued to spit blood into the snow.

    “It’s a miracle,” the captive man whispered. He began to recite the 23rd Psalm. Julian ignored him.

    “Deep breaths. Cough hard, get it out.” Julian massaged Fereshteh’s back, and she continued to cough. “Don’t try to talk.” He was concerned that the blood in her lung would clot, causing a host of other problems—one of which could be a heart attack or stroke if a clot made its way into her heart or brain. He placed his stethoscope to her back again.

    The lung was now no worse than that of someone on the mend from bronchitis.

    Julian became aware that both Drew and his mother were standing nearby. Cindy had a thick flannel shirt and a sport bra in her hands. She offered them to Fereshteh, who stripped from the waist up, scrubbing off much of the blood with clean snow. She slipped the bra and shirt on, and Julian helped her to her feet, supporting her as he brought her to the HMMWV. He settled her into the passenger’s seat and kissed her lips. They carried the taste of narcissus upon them, and he felt an electric tingle.

    “Rest. Keep spitting that stuff out. We’ll figure out what this is about later. All right?”

    “You know what it’s about. It’s about Her.”

    “It is. But I need to know more about what happened and how I am meant to use it. No; no more for now. Rest and hydrate.” He held up a hand to forestall questions and then handed Fereshteh his canteen. She took a sip, swishing her mouth out and spitting the water into the snow. As he left her, he saw her taking careful slow sips.

    Julian walked over to the man from the blockade. With Donlan’s help, they got him onto his feet. Julian noted that his hands felt raw. He looked down and saw that the reddish dermis was exposed in every place where the blisters had been.

    “What is your name?” Julian asked the man.

    “Charles Lee Flores,” he answered. “I am—was—a lieutenant with Tucson Police Department. Most people call me Ace.”

    “That’s bloody stupid,” Donlan taunted, but Julian lifted a hand to silence him.

    “How did you know we were in town?” he asked.

    “We saw a man that was wearing clean, new clothing and carrying a new backpack. We thought every place that would have new clothes would have been ransacked. He mentioned you—your hair and eyes.”

    “What happened to the man?”

    Ace shook his head and looked down. Julian lifted a raw hand to massage his temples.

    “Listen,” Ace said. “What I’ve seen in the past day has told me a hell of a lot more about you than Karl Verger’s ranting and all the news clippings he made us read. I’m not going to give trouble, and I’ll tell you all I know. But I have to get my little boy.”

    “How is he blocking my telepathy?” Julian asked.

    “I don’t know. All I know about it is that he can feel you. He knew you were out of prison and coming to Tucson, and that you had married the woman you’re with. And he says that it’s impossible to keep you silent when you are with your wife.”

    “Her name is Fereshteh. This is Cindy Ellis and her son Drew. That’s Donlan Cross. And that information is helpful. Are you hurt?”

    “Not badly. A chunk of rock bashed me a good one in the arm, and my knees are bruised up from being thrown down like I was. Don’t do those blister things. It’s not that serious.” His voice carried a quiet awe. “You screamed. Is it that painful?”

    “There were other reasons I screamed. Things you don’t need to know, at least not yet.” He gave Ace a measured look. “Where is Karl based?”

    “You won’t like it. He took over that house of yours, the one that didn’t burn. Everything you had, he’s destroyed or thrown out, and he has a ring you used to own. He’s proud of it.”

    “Scheiße!” Julian snapped. “He won’t have my ring for much longer. Where is your son, Ace?”

    “He’s there,” Ace said, flinching. “He’s at your house.”
    Julian chose to extend trust to Ace, allowing the former police lieutenant to follow them in one of the Dodge Ram trucks. They selected the one that used diesel; the others ran on gasoline, which was becoming hard to source due to most pumps requiring electricity to operate. The HMMWV was a total loss, but they were able to salvage fuel and some fifty-caliber ammunition. After they pushed or winched the remaining vehicles out of the way, they set out.

    It took two hours to reach the Masonic Temple. Going was difficult due to the four inches of snow and graupel that had fallen, but they reached the complex just after sunset. There was a small group waiting for them when they pulled in. Melora Hollcroft and six other women were waiting, all seeming worried.

    “Where have you been?” Melora asked. “You were supposed to have been back yesterday. And who is this?”

    “We ran into serious issues. Ace, this is Melora Hollcroft.” Julian chose not to reveal her importance yet. “We were accosted by my cousin and some of his men. Ace was one of them, but his allegiances have shifted.”

    “How can you be sure?” Melora’s eyes narrowed slightly.

    “Because I lay on the road with a gun to my head and watched Julian Würger do a miracle worthy of Christ Jesus,” Ace said. “His wife got shot by Verger. Julian was distraught and screamed as he knelt by her side, trying to help her. And then these huge blisters lifted up from his skin—it looked like mercury under plastic, really freaky. He poured it into the wound in her chest and it closed up. It even forced the blood out of her lung afterwards.”

    “It’s true,” Fereshteh said. She looked weary, but had stopped coughing. “My chest hurts, but I think it’s just from bringing the blood up. But it’s very cold, I’m angry and I’m still covered with blood. I want to get clean.”

    “Let’s go down,” Cindy said. “I’m cold, too, and I need to know if Julian can use what he does for me.” She looked at Julian as she spoke. “I need to know if the cure for cancer is standing here before me.”

    Melora led the way into the pump house that masked the entrance to Underhall. The last time Julian had been here, he had been too worried over other matters to take in many details, but now, he was able to look around. The stairs, though narrow, were tidy, and there were paintings upon the walls, bearing Egyptian and Masonic motifs. Melora led them into a hallway that also had a downward slope, and then they were in the large room that Julian recalled having been brought to before.

    The room, longer than it was wide, was set up much like a large parlor, with comfortable couches and a large conference table inlaid with the venerable symbol of Freemasonry, the squares and compass. It was immaculate, and the walls here had curtains of deep blue velvet, patterned with stars. He settled in an overstuffed wing chair, only then realizing how exhausted he was.

    “Let’s get everyone food and water, and we’ll eat while you tell us what happened out there,” Melora said. “After that, Julian, you need to get some sleep. You can bunk here on one of the pullout beds. All of the couches have them, for when we have a lot of people from out of town.”

    “Before I eat, I need to shower and change. I can’t stand myself,” Julian said. “Is there enough water here?”

    “There is,” Cindy said. “We have a very good water supply.” She glanced at Melora and made a slight gesture with one hand. Julian saw the movement, but had no way to know what it meant. Melora nodded to her. “You three, come with me. Ace, I’m sorry, but until we know and understand you, this is far as you can come into Underhall.”

    “Even this is a gift. Thank you.” Ace settled in another chair and closed his eyes.

    Julian, Fereshteh and Donlan followed Cindy into a connecting hallway. Julian saw something that looked like sliding doors at various points along the passageway, but chose not to ask. From his dealings with John, he knew the traditional secrecy in fraternal orders was something of critical importance. If they wanted him to have details, they would offer them.

    The passageway sloped more steeply downward, and Julian saw another of the doors, this one closed. It was so carefully constructed that one could not have gotten so much as a piece of paper into the spaces around or between the door and the wall.

    “What you are about to learn is a Temple secret,” Cindy said. “And the only reason you are learning it is because of the protection Donlan invoked. You three are a family. I can’t bring Donlan in while excluding the two of you, under the circumstances. Keep everything you see and hear from this point forward in the deepest confidence. Do you understand?”

    “I do,” Julian said. Fereshteh murmured her somber assent as well.

    Cindy, coughing into her sleeve, guided them into a long hallway. There was power, and Julian lifted a brow as he realized that the hallway was cleverly designed to mimic the Hall of Mirrors at Versailles Palace. On one side, there was a gorgeously-detailed painting that depicted the arches that overlooked the palace gardens. The other side held mirrors and statues, all scaled down to adapt to the smaller space. Looking up, Julian saw that the arched ceiling above held copies of the famed paintings present at Versailles.

    “This is incredible,” he whispered. He did not wish to disrupt the peace and beauty of the gallery with something so banal as a human voice.

    “Underhall was the collective work of forty artists and spanned fifteen years of work. It was begun when we discovered Hjorulfsson Caverns in 1967.”

    Julian froze to the spot. It was too much, and he sank to his knees, hands coming up to cover his face. He felt hot and cold by turns. Distantly, he could hear Donlan and Fereshteh asking him what was wrong, and he felt Cindy’s hands clasping his. Exhaustion, hunger, stress and overuse of his metanormal talents overcame him, and Julian collapsed to the floor.
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